TEMPE, Ariz. – The people started leaving Wells Fargo Arena with 3:55 left, as if there was a crowd to beat.
Arizona State had fought the good fight and shot the good shot and now watched USC’s Chimeze Metu slam his way to a 10-point Trojans lead.
Inevitability had arrived. ASU’s Torian Graham, the Pac-12’s second-leading scorer, was in the process of going 2 for 12. The Trojans had finally policed the area.
What happened next was February Madness.
As the final seconds slipped off the clock, Bennie Boatwright had an open shot to wipe away Arizona State’s astonishing one-point lead.
“It felt good, too,” he said.
It wasn’t, and the Sun Devils won, 83-82, extending USC’s losing streak to four and stunning fans who, refreshingly, didn’t even know how to storm the court.
The Trojans fell to 8-8 in the Pac-12 and 21-8 overall.
Coach Andy Enfield recited the positives, but when asked if USC could feel secure about an NCAA Tournament bid, he said no.
“If we lose the rest of our games all year we’re not going to the tournament,” he said. “But I’m not concerned about that right now.”
What matters is that the Trojans need a confidence tuneup after losing close to Oregon, badly at UCLA, fairly routinely at Arizona and now this.
They scored one of a possible four points from the free-throw line down the stretch. Metu fouled while trying for an offensive rebound. Boatwright threw the ball away.
But the Trojans still led by six with half a minute to go.
A drive by Tra Holder and an improbable, fadeaway 3-pointer by Kodi Justice with 14 left sliced the lead to one.
Enfield called time. Boatwright, under the basket, looked for point guard Jordan McLaughlin in the middle of the lane.
They missed connections, and when Holder stole the ball and drove, Boatwright fouled him. He shook his head, and Holder hit both foul shots with 6.9 seconds left.
Then Boatwright, who had hit 8 of his previous 11 shots and scored 22, missed his…