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Cougars come up just short in 63-61 loss to No. 20 USC

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PULLMAN, WA - DECEMBER 4: Washington State Men’s Basketball versus USC Trojans at Beasley Coliseum - Michael Flowers (12) Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Noah Williams’ three-point attempt at the buzzer hit the front of the rim and Washington State lost 63-61 to the No. 20 USC Trojans on Saturday night. The loss is WSU’s 11th straight to the Trojans and drops the Cougars to 6-2 on the season and 1-1 in Pac-12 play.

The game came down to the final few possessions. Leading by one after a T.J. Bamba three, the Cougars had a huge defensive opportunity with less than 30 seconds to play. However, Michael Flowers allowed penetration, which led to Chevez Goodwin getting a tough bucket and a foul. He made the free throw to put the Trojans up two.

That gave the Cougars possession with 16 seconds to go. Williams had a shot on the baseline, but a great defensive recovery and block thwarted that effort. The Trojans recovered and were fouled, but missed the free throw attempt giving Williams his final shot.

Offensive struggles the final four minutes cost the Cougars. WSU went cold down the stretch while USC was able to capitalize. The Cougars scored just seven points in the final 4:46 of the game while the Trojans closed the game on a 12-7 run during that time.

USC sprinted out of the second half with a 9-0 run. The run was largely keyed by Goodwin, who despite being a little smaller than the WSU posts at 6-foot-9 is especially crafty at the rim and continually got excellent post position against the WSU bigs.

To their credit, the Cougars were able to withstand the best the Trojans could throw at them and keep with them. Michael Flowers keyed the comeback, hitting a pair of threes, including this beautiful step back.

The Cougars kept the pressure on which started to cause some foul issues for USC. Goodwin picked up his fourth foul with seven minutes to play on a crafty bit of ball handling from Williams. But, Goodwin entered the game late and was once again a difference maker.

Turnovers were a struggle at times for WSU who showed some youth and inexperience at times. There were several loose balls in the first half that came from a dribble off of a foot, a bobbled catch, or a lost gather. The Trojans represented a major step up in competition for this WSU team and it was evident they weren’t playing Idaho anymore. The Cougs committed eight turnovers in the first half and 12 overall.

The Cougars did not shoot the ball especially well, shooting just 38% from the floor in the game. Tyrell Roberts especially struggled, shooting 0-for-7 on the game while going scoreless.

The Trojans showed off their length and prowess inside by holding the advantage in the paint throughout the game. The Cougars have three very good post players, but the Trojans are one of the few teams who can not only match WSU’s size and length but surpass it.

The first half was a back-and-forth defensive affair. The Cougars got the better of most of the first half, holding a lead for the majority of the half. At one point, WSU extended the lead to seven, but the Trojans just kept coming in waves of attacks to keep the game within a possession or two. WSU held a 32-30 lead going into the break.

The Cougars entered the game riding a 10-game losing streak against the Trojans. The challenge on Saturday was one of the greatest during that streak as the Trojans began the game ranked No. 10 by Kenpom.com. The Trojans are one of the best defensive teams in the country and that showed during the game with their deep rotation of talented, athletic upperclassman.

The loss is a tough one for WSU who matched the Trojans for 40 minutes and were very close to a resume building victory. This game did show how far WSU has come as they have been handily outmanned against the Trojans in recent seasons. There are growing pains with a team this young, and WSU certainly showed those issues on Saturday.

The Cougars will now regroup and continue with their non-conference schedule. WSU will host Weber State on Wednesday.