A week and a day after getting its signature win of the year with an upset of UCLA, USC almost earned its signature loss of this basketball season.
The Trojans played with little passion Thursday night but used some second-half quick-strike ability from guard J.T. Terrell to escape Galen Center with a 72-68 Pac-12 Conference win over Washington State.
Byron Wesley led the Trojans with 20 points and eight rebounds. Terrell finished with 12 points before he fouled out and center DeWayne Dedmon had a team-high 10 rebounds.
"We hung in there," USC interim Coach Bob Cantu said. "No matter how you play, you have to stay the course. Our guys stayed the course. I think this was a great win for us."
When Ari Stewart scored a layup with 10:32 left in the first half and gave the Trojans a 21-14 lead, it seemed USC (10-13, 5-5 Pac-12) was on the verge of creating a rout.
But Washington State's Mike Ladd responded immediately with a three-pointer and at halftime it was the Cougars (11-12, 2-8) who were ahead, 33-30.
And Wesley needed to make a layup at the buzzer to get USC to 30 points after DaVonte Lacy had scored on back-to-back three-pointers to give Washington State a 33-28 lead with 38.3 seconds left in the half.
Wesley (13 points) and Stewart (eight) combined for most of the Trojans' 30 first-half points.
Early in the second half Lacy propelled Washington State into a 41-34 lead with consecutive three-pointers.
USC's Terrell did the consecutive-three-pointer thing himself to put the Trojans briefly ahead, 49-47, with 7:48 left in the game. But Lacy wouldn't accept that the Trojans might use Terrell's heroics to give USC a permanent lead.
Lacy made a three-pointer immediately to give the Cougars a 50-49 lead with 7:01 left and from there it seemed as if the game would continue to go back and forth
But Terrell's third three-pointer, with 5:23 remaining, gave the Trojans a 56-53 lead and, as if to prove he wasn't only a jump shooter, Terrell scooted free for a layup that gave his team a 58-53 lead with 5:23 left.
There were some nervous moments after Terrell fouled out with 3:23 left in the game. But Aaron Fuller scored a layup on nifty assist from point guard Jio Fontan to give USC a 60-53 lead with 2:38 left and the win was secured for the Trojans.