LOS ANGELES, CA- Behind 19 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks from junior 6-foot-11 forward Nick Rakocevic, USC held on throughout the final minutes to outlast Long Beach State (CSULB), 75-65. Leading by five points with under two minutes left in the game, USC strung together two stops and scored both times at the other end to seal a win.
USC head coach Andy Enfield said of Rakocevic, “He certainly is our best rebounder and our best shot blocker. We need him to keep developing on both sides of the ball.”
USC senior forward Bennie Boatwright scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Redshirt junior point guard Derryck Thornton contributed 13 points for the Trojans.
“I have great teammates and they helped me throughout the preseason to look good,” said Thorton. “So, [because of] having a good preseason, coach allowed me [to have] freedom. It’s obviously a good feeling.”
Jonah Mathews (11 points) and Shaqquan Aaron (10 points) also scored in double figures for USC. The Trojans shot just 42.2 percent from the field but made half of their 3-point attempts. USC held CSULB to a 35.7 percent shooting clip on the defensive end.
“We missed some very easy shots, did not pass the ball as well as we have been the last few games,” Enfield said. He added, “Defensively, we were ok. But we need to rebound the ball better.”
Sophomore forward Jordan Roberts starred for CSULB, scoring 13 points and pulling down seven rebounds. Bryan Alberts posted 13 points and guard Ron Freeman scored 12 points with eight rebounds for the 49ers. The 49ers snatched 19 offensive rebounds and scored 22 second-chance points. CSULB outrebounded USC, 48-43. CSULB also gained the edge in bench points, 25-9.
Freshman guard Kevin Porter Jr. (14 points per game) missed his second straight game with a quad contusion. Boatwright scored an easy two points off a Rakocevic drive and shuffle pass to start a late USC offensive run. After a Matthews bucket, Rakocevic scored three straight baskets, placing USC’s advantage at 66-61 with 3:20 remaining.
Aaron splashed home a 3-point field goal to send the Trojans into halftime, leading 36-28. Roberts led all first-half scorers with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting for CSULB. Alberts added 8 points. Thornton scored seven first period points as USC’s high scorer. Each team committed eight first-half turnovers.
Both teams got off to sloppy starts, combining for five turnovers throughout the game’s first five minutes. The Trojans subbed out three starters four minutes into the game, bringing in a combination of Jordan Usher, Elijah Weaver, and sophomore forward Victor Uyaelunmo. Weaver hit a 3-pointer to tie the score at 9-9, nearly seven minutes in. After trading possessions, Thornton nailed a jumper, stole the ball at the other end and laid it in to quickly shift momentum in favor of USC.
Rakocevic flew towards the basket with one hand and flushed the ball down. CSULB junior guard Jordan Griffin responded with a 3-point bucket and sophomore forward Jordan Roberts added two more, four possessions later. Weaver converted on his second 3-point field goal of the game to give USC a 20-14 lead with 7:48 remaining in the first period. Roberts slashed to the rim and scored to cut the Trojans’ advantage to 27-25, forcing Enfield to call a timeout with 2:38 remaining.
Boatwright scored five points to keep the Trojans ahead, 44-32, roughly four minutes into the second period. Freeman slammed a one-handed dunk to bring CSULB within single digits. Alberts and senior forward Mason Riggins added two more baskets to cut the USC lead to 47-43 with just under 11 minutes left.
USC improves to 5-2 overall and 4-1 at home, while CSULB drops to 2-6 and 0-4 on the road. The Trojans face perhaps their toughest test of the season thus far on Saturday (Dec. 1) as senior forward Caleb Martin and the undefeated No. 5 Nevada Wolf Pack (7-0 overall) crash into Galen Center.
“[Nevada] [has] an experienced team,” Enfield said. “They’re physical, long and they play well together. They deserve their ranking, they’re an excellent basketball team.”
Martin is Nevada’s leading scorer at 21 points per contest. His twin brother, Cody, averages over 10.