December 11, 2023

He hadn’t made a three-pointer all night. But Devin Tillis hit the shot when it counted.

The UC Irvine forward hit a game-clinching three-pointer with 37.4 seconds remaining to seal Irvine’s 70-60 upset of No. 16 USC at Galen Center on Tuesday. It was Irvine’s first win over USC since 2012 and avenged a narrow 66-61 loss to the Trojans in 2021.

“We played well enough in that game two years ago to win, but we didn’t rebound well enough,” Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “I felt like the fight, the effort and physicality that we showed against a bigger, more athletic team was winning stuff.”

The Anteaters (2-1) overcame career-highs from freshman Isaiah Collier (23 points) and junior Harrison Hornery (17 points) with a starring performance from redshirt senior guard Justin Hohn, who poured in a career-best 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting. Tillis finished with eight points and 10 rebounds.

USC was without senior guard Boogie Ellis, who missed the game due to a sprained right ankle. Forward Kobe Johnson also missed a second consecutive game with left knee discomfort. Even Collier was limited in practice this week after banging knees in USC’s win over Cal State Bakersfield last Thursday, and he didn’t practice until a short session on Monday.

The limited numbers led to “probably the worst week” of practice the Trojans have had in years, head coach Andy Enfield said. It was appropriate foreshadowing for Tuesday’s offensive debacle that featured USC shooting 28.8% from the field while turning the ball over 16 times.

“We deserve to lose this game by the way we played — offensively especially,” Enfield said. “It’s frustrating, I know our players are very upset, but it’s on me. I gotta figure out, even though we’re shorthanded, figure out how to have better practices and obviously how to execute better offensively during the game.”

Ellis’ absence was glaring compared to Irvine’s experience. The Anteaters started five upperclassmen, the youngest being junior center Bent Leuchten, who started 26 games last year and finished with 19 points and six rebounds on Tuesday. Irvine returned three starters from last year’s team that upset then-No. 21 Oregon in Eugene on Nov. 11, 2022, and won the Big West.

The cohesion showed as Irvine shook off an ugly first half to start the second on a 7-0 run. The Trojans, who had just one returning upperclassman in the starting lineup with Ellis injured, were forced to call a timeout as the Anteaters’ lead ballooned to 10.

USC’s early-season growing pains were evident in several of Collier’s seven turnovers. He fired a pass out of bounds with 12:14 remaining in the second half with the Trojans trailing by six points and immediately signaled to Joshua Morgan that he should have run the wide-open baseline in the situation. The teammates remained out of sync in crunch time. With USC trailing by three with less than two minutes remaining, Collier zipped the ball to Morgan under the basket that slipped through the forward’s hands.

“They were just a better team tonight,” Collier said. “I feel like we beat ourselves on a lot of mistakes but I mean, we’re going to build and grow from it.”

USC’s 16 turnovers were just one fewer than the number of made field goals. Hornery, who was four-for-nine from three-point range, was the only USC player to make a three as his teammates missed 12 combined shots from deep.

Enfield touted the team’s scoring depth after USC’s win over Bakersfield, but the same players he celebrated struggled Thursday. Sophomore Oziyah Sellers was one-for-11 from the field for four points while transfer forward DJ Rodman was 0-for-eight.

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