USC squanders Destiny Littleton’s late-game exploits in NCAA tournament loss

Destiny Littleton’s game-changing three-pointer with seven seconds left on rule gave extra life to the USC women’s basketball team.

But the Trojans wasted it. USC will have to wait another year for a shot at its first NCAA tournament win since 2006.

Despite a record performance from Rayah Marshall, the eighth-seeded Trojans were edged out in the first round of the tournament NCAA tournament from No. 9 State of South Dakota, lose 62-57 in overtime at Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum on Friday night.

“Credit South Dakota State,” said Lindsay Gottlieb, USC sophomore coach. “They are a really good team. We knew that. They’re balanced and experienced and we tried to make it really difficult for them and I thought when they needed it they made the winning plays. I’m really proud. I’m proud of our team and I’m proud of the people in the dressing room. The journey we took was an extraordinary one. We wish it was longer.”

The Trojans (21-10) held the Jackrabbits (29-5) at their fourth-lowest overall of the season, but USC’s defensive efforts weren’t enough. South Dakota State has now won 22 straight games and meets host and No. 1 seeded Virginia Tech on Sunday.

In addition to her double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds, Marshall blocked seven shots, breaking USC’s one-season blocking record. The mark was set in the 1992-93 season by Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie, who had 95. Marshall finished that season, her second campaign, at 98.

“For me, I just like to come and compete,” Marshall said. “I feel like blocking shots on defense gives me a lot of energy cheering on my team. I definitely have to brag about that to Lisa.”

Littleton scored 18 points and Kadi Sissoko added 10 for USC.

South Dakota State was powered by two-time Summit League Player of the Year Myah Selland, who finished with 29 points and nine rebounds. Paige Meyer chipped in 16 points.

“Shoot, she’s a pro to me. She scores on all three levels,” said Gottlieb about Selland. “Their system and offense make it really difficult. You can’t actually double them because they will kick in threes. She is constantly on the move.”

USC and South Dakota State were level, but the Trojans lost the rebound fight by six, missed five free throws and shot 31% from the floor.

The Trojans built an early advantage by opening the game on a 12-2 run. South Dakota State — which had the 10th-best offense in the country at 79.4 points per game — shot just two of 12 from the floor in the first quarter.

The state of South Dakota made up that deficit in the second quarter and led by as many as seven points in the third.

After falling behind, USC went on a 9-2 run in the fourth quarter and the two teams traded leads before Littleton’s timed shot sent the game into overtime. Selland started overtime by initiating a 9-2 run to give the Jackrabbits a cushion.

USC will lose at least two exhausted starters this offseason in Littleton and Sissoko. But No. 1 overall recruit JuJu Watkins will arrive next season.

“Obviously we don’t want to get out in the first round, but USC hasn’t been here for a very long time,” Littleton said. “So that was my #1 goal when I came here to bring USC back into the NCAA tournament and we took that off the list.”

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