Final Score: VCU 59 USC 46
Virginia Commonwealth was one of the controversial entries into the NCAA Tournament that some felt should have been left to the NIT in favor of other teams, but the Rams refuted that with a solid 59-46 win over USC, in a game where the Trojans were out-played and out-coached, and eventually, the Trojans gave up, tossing in the towel in the last two minutes.
A couple of first half 5 point leads disappeared, and the game was tied 22-22 halfway through. The Rams scored first out of the break, and led wire to wire. After falling 8 points behind halfway through the period, USC twice rallied within three points, on free throws by Maurice Jones and Nikola Vucevic, and eventually 1 point, at 44-43, on Jio Fontan's freethrow. But the Trojans were done offensively, and the Rams used a 15-3 run over the last 8 minutes of the game to gain the #11 seed in the Southwest Region, and a game with Georgetown Friday.
Jamie Skeen led everyone in scoring, with 16 points for Virginia Commonwealth, the only Ram in double figures.
USC got 14 points from Fontan, and a 14 rebound 11 point performance from Vucevic.
The Trojans finished the year 19-15, while VCU improved to 24-11.
VCU won the game in significant part because they made 9 of 24 three pointers, while USC was only 1 of 9, 11%. Quantity and quality of the Trojans outside shots were both lacking.
USC coach Kevin O'Neil's strategy, which at critical times seemed to neglect Vucevic's considerable size and talents, in favor of guard play when the Trojan guards weren't on, was as surprising as his directions to his team to concede with a couple of minutes left. O'Neil eschewed fouling to extend the game, and then had the offense abandon the ball on their last possession.
It has to raise questions about whether the Pac-10 will see anything resembling the current Trojans ever again, despite only two of the eight USC players to see action in the NCAA Play-On Play-Off game in Dayton.
With rumors already swirling about the possibility of players transferring, O'Neil got into a verbal altercation with an Arizona booster after the Trojans' 70-56 win over California in the Pac-10 Tournament, and got himself suspended as a result, and missed the 'Cats 67-62 win over his team.
The end of the game, which included Vucevic fouling out in frustration, has to lend credence to the possibility that the much traveled O'Neil is not long for the Trojans. Whatever various Pac-10 constituencies think about USC, one thing that everyone will agree on is that the Trojans are a proud program, and not one that gives up easily. The end of tonight's game had to be as difficult for the USC faithful as the loss was.
Vucevic, a junior, could well leave for the NBA, leaving USC with little inside presence.
At the very least, Conquest Chronicles will be an interesting read in the days to come.
The Trojans' early exit leaves the Pac-10 with three teams left. UCLA plays tomorrow, with Arizona and Washington in action Friday.