LOS ANGELES (AP)After a couple of close losses in the Bahamas last month, Southern California was looking for a signature win and a boost of confidence.
The Trojans got a big one Sunday, holding off 19th-ranked Auburn 74-71 for their fifth straight victory.
USC (9-3) lost in overtime to Tennessee and by five points to Wisconsin at the Bahamas event over Thanksgiving. With just one game left before resuming Pac-12 play, the Trojans wanted to make a statement.
”Our team has improved dramatically since the Bahamas,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. ”This is our biggest win of the year by far. We’ve a young team developing and this showed we can compete.”
Boogie Ellis scored a career-high 28 points and the Trojans forced 14 of Auburn’s season-high 23 turnovers in the second half of the teams’ first meeting since 1977. USC scored 23 points off the Tigers’ miscues.
”He was physical, he was quick,” Enfield said of Ellis. ”He played his best game of the year.”
Neither team led by more than six points in the second half. USC made nine of 12 free throws over the final four minutes.
The Trojans were up 71-65 with 13 seconds remaining when Auburn made a run. Chris Moore and K.D. Johnson combined to make four straight free throws that cut the Tigers’ deficit to two points.
Ellis got fouled after catching an inbounds pass. He sank the first free throw but missed the second, leaving USC clinging to a 72-69 lead.
Johnson got fouled and made both to leave the Tigers trailing 72-71.
Ellis got fouled again with two seconds left, and this time he made both. Johnson missed a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
”I’m at my best when I’m aggressive getting to the paint and looking for my teammates,” Ellis said. ”We’re at our best when our guards are flying around, taking charges. We attacked them.”
Johni Broome led the Tigers (9-2) with 16 points and fouled out with seven seconds left.
Ellis extended USC’s lead to 69-63 with four straight points. Auburn’s Tre Donaldson made two of three free throws before Tre White came up with a big block of Donaldson.
Donaldson missed a 3-pointer before fouling out with 13 seconds remaining. He finished with 12 points. Broome fouled Kobe Johnson going for the rebound and Johnson made both to keep USC ahead 71-65.
Joshua Morgan and Johnson added 10 points each for the Trojans. Johnson made all six of his free throws, including four in the closing minutes, and had six steals.
”We executed well,” Johnson said. ”We knew it was going to be a very physical game and we had to match their physicality.”
Trailing by eight, the Tigers outscored USC 14-2, including consecutive baskets off Trojans turnovers, to lead 39-35 at halftime. Broome and Donaldson hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the spurt.
Making the school’s first trip to California since 2018, the Tigers were backed by a small but raucous cheering section. They waved pompoms, chanted ”War Eagle” and a few shirtless male fans wore orange and blue body paint.
Johnson, whose 43-game consecutive appearance streak ended Wednesday against Georgia State, finished with six points. He was 0 for 5 from the floor but made 6 of 7 free throws. Wendell Green Jr., who hurt his ankle earlier in the week, had two points.
Auburn: The Tigers got tagged with just their second loss of the season and have one more nonleague game before opening SEC play on Dec. 28 at home against Florida.
USC: The Trojans earned an important win over a fellow Power Five school that made them 4-0 this month.
Auburn: Wraps up its West Coast trip at Washington on Wednesday.
USC: Plays Colorado State on Wednesday at the Jerry Colangelo Classic in Phoenix.
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