In Stanford’s first game in Maples Pavilion since recently-announced crowd restrictions, every word, bounce and emotion echoed loudly throughout the arena. So when the clock finally expired and the Cardinal (9-4, 2-1 Pac-12) officially captured their victory over No. 5 USC (13-1, 3-1 Pac-12) on Tuesday, there were hardly any adoring crowd members celebrating with them, but the triumphant cheers of each player rang clear as day.
“That’s a big-time win for our program needless to say,” said head coach Jerod Haase after the game. “Getting wins against top-five teams in the country is not something that comes around every day.”
“It’s the best win since I’ve been here easily,” said junior forward Spencer Jones. “But we’re not finished. We know there are top ten teams in this conference.”
Jones and freshman forward Harrison Ingram both scored a team-high 21 points in the game, which was a career high for Ingram and the second-highest scoring output in Jones’s collegiate career. Ingram also led the team with 10 rebounds, giving him his third collegiate double-double, while sophomore guard Michael O’Connell bolstered the Cardinal’s performance with seven assists.
The game was back and forth from the tip-off, as Stanford got off to a fast start to show it wouldn’t be rolling over to the previously undefeated Trojans. Ingram opened with a three-point field goal to set the pace for the Cardinal, but the Trojans responded with a quick field goal of their own. Jones hit a jumper with just two seconds left on the shot clock, but then USC sank back-to-back three pointers to take the lead. USC held onto this lead for the next three-and-a-half minutes, but they could never quite pull away as Stanford kept hitting shots of its own.
This ended up being a theme of the game: USC would start to seem like it was pulling away, but it could never get more than a seven-point lead before Stanford sank a three to reduce it to a two-possession game. While the Cardinal rarely ended up with the lead, holding it for only eight minutes of the game while trailing for almost 29, they did a good job of keeping USC from gaining too much momentum by pulling fresh legs off the bench.
Midway through the first half, sophomore forward Brandon Angel dominated after coming off the bench, hitting eight consecutive points after USC had taken a six-point lead. With eight minutes remaining before half time, a rested Ingram returned from the bench to secure back-to-back offensive rebounds and eventually two foul shots, both of which he sank, to bring Stanford within one point of USC. Sophomore guard Noah Taitz came from the sidelines in the middle of the second half and promptly hit back-to-back threes to give Stanford the lead after trailing by five.
Perhaps the biggest shift in momentum, though, came with less than a minute and a half remaining in the first half. USC had its biggest lead of the game, winning 33-26, when Jones was fouled and hit both of his free throws. The Cardinal held USC scoreless on the next possession, and Jones then hit a field goal and a dunk coming off a USC turnover to bring the score to 33-32 going into halftime.
The second half was similar to the first in that neither team established a comfortable lead, but it ended up being much more physical, as Stanford fouled the Trojans three times in the first minute of play and reached the double bonus with ten minutes of action still remaining. Luckily, free throws were one of the weakest parts of USC’s game, as the Trojans went 21-for-32.
Conversely, Stanford went 15-for-21 from the free-throw line, and winning that battle ended up being critical in a game where no team had led by more than seven points. Stanford also won the three-point battle, shooting 42% from beyond the arc compared to USC’s 29%.
Unlike the first half, the second half featured many more lead changes. It felt less like Stanford was merely keeping pace with USC and more like the Cardinal could come away with the upset victory. Nonetheless, it seemed as though each successful Cardinal attempt was matched by the visitors on the opposite end.
With just over five minutes remaining and Stanford trailing by four, Ingram hit seven of Stanford’s next nine points, starting a 9-3 Cardinal run that gave them the lead and momentum heading into the final two minutes of play. Junior forward James Keefe hit a critical layup in this stretch as well, tying the game at 64 apiece.
USC pulled within two with a minute and a half remaining, but the Cardinal never faltered as Ingram promptly hit two clutch free throws to just about put the game out of reach. Senior forward Jaiden Delaire hit two more free throws of his own with 17 seconds remaing after USC made it a three-point game, and Stanford went on to take the 75-69 victory.
While the Cardinal’s first win over a top-five team in 15 years was impressive enough on its own, this victory required a Herculean-like effort as Stanford was stepping on the court for the first time since Dec. 23 due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols within the program.
“They haven’t had a two-week period where they haven’t worked out since they were five years old,” Haase said of the team’s extended break. “Two days ago was the first time we had any contact in practice, and we didn’t have much of it, so really for 19 days, there was a really minimal amount of contact.”
Now that the Cardinal are healthy and coming off one of the biggest upsets in program history, they are set to take on a Pac-12 schedule that seems much less daunting after Tuesday’s tussle. Stanford next travels to Pullman, Wash. to take on Washington State (9-6, 2-2 Pac-12) on Thursday at 2 p.m. PT.