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USC squanders late-game heroics of Destiny Littleton in NCAA tournament loss

Destiny Littleton’s game-tying 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining in regulation brought extra life to the USC women’s basketball team.

But the Trojans squandered it. USC will have to wait another year for a chance at its first NCAA tournament victory since 2006.

Despite a record effort from Rayah Marshall, the eighth-seeded Trojans were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by the number 9 State of South Dakota, losing 62-57 in overtime at Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum on Friday night.

“Give credit to the state of South Dakota,” USC sophomore coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “They are a very good team. We knew that. They are balanced and experienced and we tried to make it really difficult for them, and I thought that when they needed it, they made the winning plays. I am very proud. I am proud of our team and I am proud of the people in the locker room. The journey we undertook was exceptional. I wish it was longer.”

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

In addition to his double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds, Marshall blocked seven shots, breaking the USC single-season record for blocks. The mark was set in the 1992-93 season by Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie, who had 95. Marshall finished this season, his second season, with 98.

“For me, I just like to come out and compete,” Marshall said. “I feel like when I’m blocking shots on the defensive end, I’m energizing my team. I’m definitely going to have to brag to Lisa about that a bit.”

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

South Dakota State was fueled 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, for me she is a professional. She scores on all three levels,” Gottlieb said of Selland. “Her system of hers and her offense make it really difficult. You can’t really double it well because they will kick it for threes. She is constantly on the move.”

USC and South Dakota State were even, but the Trojans lost the rebounding battle by six, missing five free throws and shooting 31% from the ground.

The Trojans built an early lead by opening the game on a 12-2 run. Entering with the 10th-best scoring offense in the nation at 79.4 points per game, South Dakota State shot just 2-for-12 from the floor in the first quarter.

South Dakota State cut that deficit in the second quarter and led by as many as seven points in the third.

After falling behind, USC put together a 9-2 run in the fourth quarter and the two sides traded leads before Littleton’s timely shot sent the game into overtime. Selland started overtime by sparking a 9-2 run to give the Jackrabbits a cushion.

USC will lose at least a couple of starters this offseason in Littleton and Sissoko, who have exhausted their eligibility. But the No. 1 overall recruit, JuJu Watkins, will arrive next season.

“Obviously, we don’t want to be out in the first round, but USC hasn’t been here in a long time,” Littleton said. “So, that was my number one goal coming here, to get USC back into the NCAA tournament, and we took it off the roster.”