LOS ANGELES-Coming off USC’s first loss to Santa Clara since 1984, the Trojans dominated Southern Utah 91-49 to snap their four-game losing streak. USC forwards Nick Rakocevic (21 points) and Bennie Boatwright (18 points) combined for 18 rebounds. The Trojans forced Southern Utah into 24 turnovers and shot 53.7 percent from the field.
“There’s a huge emphasis on our team of sharing the basketball, making the extra pass and playing off of two feet instead of flipping balls at the rim,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. Boatwright, who shot over 46 percent from the field, added, “Seeing the ball go through the rim was big for me.”
USC redshirt junior point guard Derryck Thornton scored eight points and dished out eight assists. Shaqquan Aaron added seven points and snatched two steals.
“Everybody’s glad we got a win for the holidays,” Aaron said.
Sharpshooting guard Jonah Mathews hit 5 of his 7 attempts from the field and scored 14 points. Sophomore forward Victor Uyaelunmo collected three baskets late and finished with six points. USC improves to 6-6 overall, while Southern Utah falls to 5-4.
“We’ve been on the road for a few games, had a really tough stretch. It’s nice to have our team play well on both ends of the ball,” Enfield said.
Senior guard Brandon Better contributed 12 points and junior forward Andre Adams scored 13 to lead Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds shot just 28.6 percent from beyond the arc and were outrebounded by 11.
After playing limited minutes against Santa Clara, USC freshman point guard Elijah Weaver (6.2 points per game) missed action due to a sore ankle, which he aggravated in the Trojans loss to Oklahoma. Freshman swingman Kevin Porter Jr. remains out with a quad contusion, but is eyeing a possible return in USC’s next game, a clash with 3-7 UC Davis on Dec. 30.
“We need to get healthy over this break and hopefully be ready for Pac-12 play,” Enfield said. “We need to take some momentum into our second half of the season.”
Boatwright slammed one through plus a foul and converted from the free-throw line to open the second half. Three of Southern Utah’s first five second half possessions resulted in turnovers. Adams scored twice to force a USC timeout, Southern Utah trailing 47-31 nearly four minutes into the second period.
Thornton and junior Southern Utah forward Jacob Calloway traded 3-pointers, but Boatwright responded with five straight points to keep USC ahead by 20 as the second period progressed. USC led for more than 36 of the game’s 40 minutes. The Trojans gained a large advantage in bench points, 23-7. USC shared the ball all over the court, distributing 24 assists.
Adams scored seven of Southern Utah’s first 12 points, but USC got off to a dominant start. The Trojans held a 26-12 advantage with roughly seven minutes left in the first period thanks to seven points each from Rakocevic and Boatwright. Better nailed two 3-pointers to end multiple Southern Utah scoring droughts.
Enfield said, “Southern Utah is a very dangerous team. They average 83 points per game. We played very well defensively tonight, so we held them down.”
Aaron fouled Better on his third 3-point attempt and the Thunderbird guard shot 2-of-3 from the line. Redshirt junior forward Cameron Oluyitan hit a corner three-point attempt four possessions later, but the Trojans still led by 16. A Rakocevic slam ended the half and USC took a 39-25 lead into the break. USC forced Southern Utah into 11 first half turnovers. Rakocevic led all first half scorers with 14 points. Better posted 12 points in the first period, while Boatwright contributed nine for the Trojans.
“When we get stops, we play better offensively,” Boatwright said. “We’re a good transition team, so we need to make more consistent efforts and focus on getting stops.”
Southern Utah begins Big Sky action next up, at home versus 3-7 Montana State on Dec. 29. UC Davis will be the last test for USC before hitting Pac-12 competition against Cal (4-6 overall) on Jan. 3, 2019.
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.