LOS ANGELES, CA (News4usonline) – Despite what the final box score says from USC’s 29-point demolition of Florida A&M (FAMU) Tuesday evening, the Trojans performance didn’t actually have that much consistency. USC shot poorly from the foul line, turned the ball over and struggled to find offensive production until the second half. There was one aspect of the Trojans’ opening night 77-48 win that remained steady, however.
The five-star recruit and Chino Hills product filled up the stat sheet in his college debut, dominating on both ends of the floor from start to finish. He finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds, eight blocks and one steal in 25 minutes, sitting on the bench for the game’s last eight minutes while USC held a 26-point lead.
Okongwu tied the USC single game record for blocks.
“That wasn’t my objective for the night, I just wanted to go out there and have fun, help my team win,” he said. “But it’s an extreme milestone. I’m just happy with the W tonight.”
Trojans head coach Andy Enfield didn’t care much about the record and scoffed at the idea of substituting him back into the game in an effort to break the mark.
“We’re not concerned about school records right now … he’s concerned about winning. If he wants to break the school record, he’ll do it next game.”
Enfield is right to feel that way. At 6-foot-9 and 249 pounds, Okongwu is a force of nature in the paint who also runs up and down the floor like a gazelle.
“[He’s a ] very good help defender and he is obviously quick off his feet,” Enfield said. “It’s fun to watch.”
Seven of Okongwu’s 13 rebounds came on the offensive glass, an area of his game that Enfield is blown away by.
Enfield said, “He has a natural gift of offensive rebounding. You turn your head and he’s gone.”
Okongwu collected two rebounds on the Trojans’ first two defensive possessions and slammed a lob from fellow freshman Ethan Anderson, all within the game’s first five minutes. Before the 15-minute mark even hit, he’d already blocked three shots and snagged four rebounds.
“He’s relentless,” Enfield said of Okongwu. “When that shot goes up, he’s going to be somewhere and it’s usually towards basketball.”
While the rest of USC’s offense struggled in the first period, Okongwu supplied consistent production. By the time halftime hit, the Trojans — leading by one — were shooting 33 percent from the field as a team.
Okongwu converted nearly 67 percent of his first-period field goal attempts.
He scored half of the Trojans’ buckets on their 12-6 run to open the second half. When the rest of the team’s offense finally awoke, USC ran FAMU off the floor. The Trojans outscored FAMU 53-25 in the second half.
One Trojan that woke up in the second period was 6-foot-10 freshman forward Isaiah Mobley, a former AAU teammate of Okongwu. The two played together on the Compton Magic beginning at age 17, and their chemistry showed up big time on the floor Tuesday evening for USC.
“When you play with big guys like [Okongwu], it makes it real easy to be comfortable,” Mobley said.
Mobley finished as USC’s second-highest contributor with 17 points, scoring all of them in the second half.
“[Okongwu] got a bunch of dunks, which freed me up in the second half and then he always lifts my spirits and keeps me going.”
Enfield credits Okonwu’s combination of mentality, effort and athleticism when explaining the freshman’s dominance.
“It’s really the mentality,” Enfield said. “I know a lot of guys just as athletic as Onyeka, but when that shot goes up he’s going to get it.”
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.