His back was still hurting, the tension building up over the last half of a long season, the finish line of a long college career.
Drew Peterson was not his usual flexible self. It was exactly Saturday night. The older’s stiff back slowed him down on Thursday and almost pushed him into the background. USCregular season finale. A report earlier in the day went as far as to declare him out due to injury. But when the lights in the arena went out and the line-ups were announced, the fifth-year student cautiously jumped up from his seat on the bench, as if his presence had never been in doubt.
After all, this would be Peterson’s last game at the Galen Center, an arena that had been bent to his will more than once.
Saturday, however, won’t be one of those nights, even though USC managed to slip past. Arizona 68-65.
Either way, Peterson would have eviscerated him anyway—a worthy end to a career at USC, where he resignedly adapted wherever he was needed. On Saturday morning, he tried everything to manage the pain, from chiropractic to IVs. But just before the signal was given, everyone at USC was expecting him to sit down.
“For him to get through the pain and get on the field, play 31 minutes, get on the field and help us win,” said USC coach Andy Enfield, “he showed a lot of courage and resilience.”
“He’s a warrior,” teammate Boogie Ellis added.
By late Saturday evening, Peterson was almost completely ill. He still fought for rebounds, still dribbled to the rim, still fired balls to the flank, the usual traits of his all-round style of play. But the toughness stole the explosive spark that bound them together, leaving Peterson to fight for every possession.
“I didn’t think I was going to play when I woke up this morning,” Peterson admitted. “But with the stakes in the game, which was the last home game, I really tried my best to get on the floor.”
He finished with nine points, five rebounds and three assists in his Finals, a full but modest line that wouldn’t quite tell the story of his USC swan song.
His senior colleague would make up for the slack, as he often did. Ellis may have spent one year less here than Peterson, but in his two seasons as a Trojan, he has become the undeniable other half of the team’s heartbeat.
This has never been truer than last month, when Ellis was in the midst of the best part of his college career and the University of Southern California was desperate to make a difference in the world. The point guard continued his hot run on Saturday, scoring 28 points to lead USC once again.
Both high school students will leave a legacy at USC that should be played in an endless cycle of high school drumming for years. Together they will land one of the best shots at the most important moments. But their influence extended far beyond those brief flare-ups, and both left an indelible mark on the growing basketball program.
“We are always led by Boogie and Drew,” Enfield said.
When Arizona State rose for a last-second shot on Saturday, it was Peterson who extended his hand to the shooter’s face.
Such an end would be too close to comfort, as was the sloppy note that started the game for USC. The Trojans did not score for five minutes, during which they flipped the ball five times. They added three more over the next 13 minutes, throwing errant passes, dribbling, making ill-fated decisions.
But, like so many times before this season, USC settled in. He overwhelmed the defense, forcing Arizona State to miss his last dozen shots before halftime. With the Sun Devils struggling, the Trojans went 15-2 at halftime.
They’re going to have to work hard, even though Arizona State only scored 29% per game. In a string of recent mistakes, the USC Sun Devils closed the gap to one point in the last minute. Arizona State failed to achieve overtime when DJ Horne missed a three-point shot into the siren.
This small win should hopefully give the Trojans a place on the safe side of the NCAA tournament bubble, taking some of the pressure off next week’s trip to Las Vegas. USC was already locked in first place. 3rd place for the conference tournament. He will face the winner of the sixth seed Arizona State vs. 11th in Oregon on Thursday at 8:30 pm PST.
How far he gets from there may well depend on how far a couple of elders can carry him. Back pain and all.