USC’s 95-79 win over the Cal State Northridge Matadors did not come as a surprise for new head coach Andy Enfield and his run-and-gun squad, but there was a certain atmosphere and excitement at the Galen Center on Tuesday for this year’s Trojan basketball team that had to have come as a shock for those familiar with past teams.
In recent years, USC has been excruciatingly methodical, so Trojan faithful were more than pleased to see an early alley-oop dunk from freshman guard Julian Jacobs and a series of aggressive drives from sophomore guard Chass Bryan. Those types of plays came early and often for USC (1-1) on Tuesday night, and they will only increase in volume and efficiency as the season matures. Even more exciting for some was the newly founded basketball student section, the “Enzone,” which did its best to express disagreements with the referees all game long while wearing matching “Enzone” T-shirts. Still, the victory did not come easily against an experienced Matadors squad, as the Trojans were sloppy at the beginning with eight first-half turnovers and a series of ticky-tack fouls that frequently put Northridge at the foul line, allowing them to remain in contention. The Trojans were also hurt in a major way by a rough start from junior guard Byron Wesley, who made just two of eight shot attempts in the first half. He was still able to get to the free throw line, but in general the Trojans seemed over-anxious to make plays early, and were fortunate to enter the half leading by 11. “I missed a lot of easy shots, but I know when my shot’s not falling, I can do a lot of other things on the court,” Wesley said. He finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Out of the halftime break, Enfield saw more of the same, as a few erratic turnovers, including an ill-advised lob from Bryan, allowed the Matadors to cut the deficit to five a few minutes into the second half. USC would eventually settle down, though, thanks in large part to freshman forward Nikola Jovanovic, who made his first five shot attempts, including a pivotal three-pointer that halted a Northridge run early in the second half. Leading by just seven with roughly 10 minutes remaining, the Trojans seemed to finally find their stride, ignited by a three-pointer from senior guard J.T. Terrell that bumped the USC lead back up to double digits. Fans were surprised by the notable absence of Terrell in the starting lineup following his 20-point performance in the season-opening loss against Utah State. Enfield said the decision to sit Terrell out was because of academic reasons. “Playing time is earned in practice and in games,” Enfield said. “[Terrell] started our first game because he earned it. It’s a game-by-game decision. The way I coach, no one’s guaranteed minutes—you have to earn it on the court and in the classroom” Still, his shot proved to be the turning point, and he showed no signs of contempt for the coaches’ decision. A three from Jacobs and several layups from senior guard Pe’Shown Howard were enough for the Trojans to build up a 16-point advantage that they never came close to relinquishing for the remainder of the game. Though the level of execution seemed to fluctuate for the Trojans all game, one thing that was constant was the change in the players who were on the court. Enfield, still getting a feel for his roster, used 12 players against the Matadors. “We’re still trying to figure out everyone’s role on the team,” Wesley said. “We have a lot of talented guys ready to play.” Senior center Omar Oraby, who seemed eager to answer critics who thought he would not be able to fit well into Enfield’s fast-paced system, played with dominance, consistently muscling his way down low both on offense and defense. The Cairo, Egypt native punctuated his stellar performance with a three-point play amid multiple defenders late in the second half. His three points put the Trojans up by more than 20, and from there it was a cakewalk to the finish line for USC. Oraby finished up with 17 points and shot seven-for-eight from the field, one of his most productive offensive nights since he transferred to USC from Rice before last season. USC plays next on Friday at 8 p.m. against Northern Arizona. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. Follow us on Twitter @dailytrojan