Utah men blow 10-point second-half lead in 56-52 loss to USC

Southern California guard Ethan Anderson, right, goes up for a basket over Utah guard Rylan Jones, front left, and center Branden Carlson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

Los Angeles • Timmy Allen brought the University of Utah to the doorstep of a critical win on Thursday night at USC.

Allen’s layup with 1:04 to play at the Galen Center broke a 50-all tie. The Utes were in control for much of the night, gave that control up, but that bucket was going to make all the shortcomings moot.

At least, that’s how it was supposed to go.

Utah never led again, and USC made the plays late to remain firmly in the Pac-12 regular-season title picture via a 56-52 win over the Utes.

Utah (12-8, 3-5 Pac-12) is now 2-6 against Quadrant 1 opponents, with likely no more than four Q1 opportunities left on the schedule. The Utes are winless on the road against Pac-12 competition.

“The guys are playing the game the right way, but we have to be better," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "We had some costly fouls, costly free throws. It’s always a tough one to swallow whenever you lose.”

The Trojans (17-4, 6-2 Pac-12) tied the game at 52 on two Jonah Matthews free throws with 55 seconds left. Down the other end, Branden Carlson was inexplicably fouled in the act of shooting at the elbow by Elijah Weaver. Carlson, solid for much of the night and most of the last three games, missed both free throws.

“What's going through my head is, you know, make them and I've got to do this to help my team,” said Carlsen, who had 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting, while holding his own against Trojans star freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu. “It's really frustrating for myself to know that I didn't make them and I didn't step up and knock down the three throws, especially two in a row. I can't do that again.”

Senior Nick Rakocevic, not Okongwu, was the best Trojan on the floor Thursday night. His follow of Okongwu’s miss from close range with 20 seconds left gave USC a 54-52 lead.

Out of a Utah timeout, Allen drove to the rim, but was stuffed by Okongwu with 6.0 seconds left. The Trojans got the ball in bounds, Okongwu was fouled, and hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to cap the scoring and ice the game.

Allen played sick, shooting 5 for 20 and 0 for 4 from 3-point range, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds. The sophomore was due to see a doctor Thursday night, per a Utah athletic department official.

“We called a little mid pick-and-roll to try and get downhill,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s kind of what we went to the last few minutes. Fairly effective, but it was a big block. Maybe it’s a bang-bang call, putting some pressure on the official.

“He was one of the leading shot blockers (in the Pac-12) and it didn’t go as planned.”

Trailing the whole way, USC finally found some daylight, ripping off a 10-0 run over 6:22. A Matthews 3-pointer pulled the Trojans to within one, and a Wheeler driving layup gave them their first lead at 41-40 with 7:21 to play.

Utah had trouble on offense in stretches, but this particular scoreless stretch was profound. The Utes missed seven straight shots and turned the ball over four times within that 6:22.

The first half saw each side go through extended stretches of rough offense. Some of that was solid defense by the opponent, some of it was just sloppiness.

Either way, Utah got the better end of things, leading wire-to-wire over the first 20 minutes.

Once up 10, Utah saw its lead cut to three at 21-18, but went on a rush. Battin hit a 3-pointer from the right baseline. Battin then stole the ball in the frontcourt, the action going the other way culminating in Jaxon Brenchley hitting a triple for a 27-18 lead with 2:46 before halftime.

USC got the deficit back to four, but Allen closed a forgettable first half on offense by bullying his way to the block, rising and scoring over his defender. That bucket sent the Utes to the locker room with a 29-23 lead.

Utah held USC to 8-for-23 first-half shooting, including 1-for-8 from 3-point range, while taking care of the glass against USC’s frontcourt, arguably the Pac-12’s best, to the tune of plus-3.

Sophomore wing Both Gach sat Thursday night with what Krystkowiak called a knee injury postgame. Gach dressed and went through warmups as a game-time decision, but never checked in.

With Gach out, Brenchley was solid in his second start of the season, finishing with six points and five rebounds in a season-high 38 minutes.