The UCR men’s basketball team took a tough loss in a close 62-67 overtime game to USC, who is ranked 16th in the nation, on Tuesday, Jan.12. The Highlanders were on the verge of winning their first game against the Trojans in the school’s history. However, they were not able to score against USC’s elite defense in the clutch, as they rank No. 2 in block shots per game. The Highlanders ultimately lost in this wild game.

The Highlanders went on a 7-2 run to start the game before the Trojans came back with a 8-0 run of their own. A pair of made free throws from USC’s sophomore forward Isaiah Mobley put the Trojans up 14-9, forcing Head Coach Mike Magpayo to call a timeout. The Highlanders came out on fire out of the timeout and, combined with their suffocating defense, they went on an explosive 16-0 run to blow the game open 25-14 before a top of the key 3-pointer from senior guard Tahj Eaddy stopped the bleeding for USC. The Trojans responded by going on a 10-2 run of their own to bring the game to 27-24. A 3-pointer at the buzzer from redshirt senior guard Dominick Pickett saw the Highlanders up 32-27 at the half. Junior point guard Flynn Cameron led UCR with 11 points, and redshirt senior forward Arinze Chidom held down the defense with 2 blocks and 3 steals at the halfway point. The Highlanders stifled the Trojan’s offense, holding them to only 34% from the field and 20% from the 3-point line, while the Highlanders offense shot an efficient 50% from the field and 46% from three.

The Trojans came out of the half on a 9-0 run, giving them the lead 34-32. The Highlanders struggled to score as USC intensified their defense, holding the Highlanders scoreless for the first seven minutes of the second half. However, back to back 3-pointers from Pickett put UCR back up 38-36. The game turned into a defensive battle, as both teams struggled to put up points down the stretch. In a press release, Magpayo stated, “They did a good job switching in the second half, and that affected our offense,” when asked about his team’s offensive struggles in the second half.

With under two minutes remaining, a hook shot from Chidom cut the UCR deficit to one, 51-52. A couple of possessions later, a step-back jumper from sophomore point guard Zyon Pullin gave the Highlanders the lead 53-52 with 31 seconds left in the game. With 12 seconds remaining, USC’s redshirt senior guard Isaiah White drew a foul on Chidom, which fouled Chidom out of the game. White converts only 1 out of 2 from the charity stripe, tying the game at 53-53. With a chance to win, Pullin’s 3-pointer got blocked by USC freshman forward Evan Mobley, which forced the game to an extra five minutes of action.

In the overtime, Chidom’s absence was felt on defense as the Highlanders were outrebounded 7-2 by the Trojans, including three offensive rebounds, which led to four second chance points. “You know the number one key for us today was defensive rebounding, and it’s hard to do against those pogo sticks,” said Magpayo. The Highlanders were unable to stop USC’s junior guard Drew Peterson in overtime, as he scored eight of his 12 points during the extra five minutes. A layup from Evan Mobley sealed the game for the Trojans, as the Highlanders lost 62-67 in overtime. “This was a local game against a good opponent to test ourselves. Bottom line, I think we got better today, whether it’s practice or game and our focus overall,” said Magpayo after the game.

Pickett led the Highlanders in scoring with 16 points, including a perfect 4-4 from the 3-point range. Redshirt senior center Jock Perry recorded his first ever double-double on Highlander record with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Chidom contributed with 10 points, four steals and two blocks. However, the Highlanders were not able to stop the Trojan’s Mobley brothers. Evan Mobley recorded 20 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks while his brother, Isaiah Mobley, contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds.

The Highlanders look to get back in the win column against Cal State University, Bakersfield on Friday, Jan. 22 and Saturday, Jan. 23, both at 4 p.m.

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