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Late layup lifts USC over Oregon State, 69-68

Trojans recover after blowing a 15-point second-half lead to give interim head coach Bob Cantu a victory.

January 20, 2013|By Gary Klein

About an hour before tipoff against Oregon State on Saturday, Bob Cantu stood outside USC's locker room at the Galen Center attempting to recall the keypad sequence to gain entry.

Cantu eventually got inside — and then the Trojans' interim coach came up with the right combination for his first victory.

It wasn't exactly how Cantu drew it up — the Trojans blowing a 15-point lead in the second half — but USC executed when it counted and won, 69-68.

"It feels great," Cantu, a USC assistant for 12 seasons, said of earning his first victory. "When a 15-point lead starts evaporating, my blood pressure certainly goes up.

"I'm feeling more comfortable every day. I'm just happy for our guys."

It was the second consecutive close game for the Trojans, who are adapting to life after Kevin O'Neill.

Athletic Director Pat Haden put Cantu in charge after firing O'Neill on Monday. Three days later, the Trojans took No. 21 Oregon down to the wire, but missed several shots in the final seconds and lost, 76-74.

Against Oregon State, the Trojans overcame 20 turnovers by making clutch plays in the final six seconds.

First, senior forward Aaron Fuller took a pass from guard J.T. Terrell and scored off a drive to put the Trojans ahead, 69-68.

Then Terrell and Eric Wise blocked a shot by Oregon State's Devon Collier with one second left to preserve the victory.

"This week was hectic," said sophomore guard Byron Wesley, who scored a season-high 19 points.

"Cantu has a different philosophy from KO. We're trying to adjust. We're making strides."

Wesley took, perhaps, the biggest steps after Cantu implored him to drive to the basket.

"That's what he's good at," Cantu said.

Wesley scored 12 points in the first half and also gave USC a late lead with a shot off a drive.

Wise finished with 18 points and five rebounds as USC improved to 8-11 overall and 3-3 in conference heading into games next week at Arizona State and Arizona.

Roberto Nelson scored 26 points for Oregon State, which fell to 10-8 and 0-5 in conference play.

USC led, 39-31, going into halftime after 7-footer James Blasczyk threw down a one-handed dunk at the buzzer after a Wesley miss.

Wise made a shot, guard Jio Fontan a three-pointer and Wesley added a basket, putting the Trojans ahead by 15 points less than 90 seconds into the second half.

"The first minute and half of the second half lost us the game," Oregon State Coach Craig Robinson said.

The Beavers, however, went ahead, 49-48, with about 12 minutes remaining and were leading, 66-65 after Nelson scored with 45 seconds left.

USC appeared to have lost its final chance when Terrell's pass inside to center Omar Oraby went out of bounds with 29.4 seconds left.

But Joe Burton's inbound pass went off Eric Moreland's fingertips, and Wise grabbed the ball and scored for a 67-66 lead. The Beavers regained the lead on a basket from in close by Burton with 12 seconds left, but the Trojans came right back and Terrell fed Fuller for what proved to be the game-winning shot.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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