The USC men’s basketball team extended its winning streak to three games on Tuesday night at the Galen Center with a 76-62 victory over Cal State Fullerton, thanks in large part to a dominant performance by senior center Omar Oraby, who finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and a career-high tying six blocks.
Junior guard Byron Wesley continued his strong start to the season with a team-high 22 points to go along with eight rebounds.
“It’s nice to have three home wins under our belt,” head coach Andy Enfield said.
The game saw a rare bit of consistency in the starting lineup, with freshman forward Nikola Jovanovic making his second consecutive start. Enfield elected to use the same starting lineup that he did last Friday against Northern Arizona, and the unit showed a good deal of cohesion in the early goings, jumping out to a double digit lead just a few minutes into the game.
There was a notable absence of senior guard J.T. Terrell, who did not play in his second straight game. The team has not released an official reason for why the star is not playing, but Enfield did address his captain’s eligibility.
“We’ll make some decisions in these next couple days about his short term eligibility,” he said. “It is an academic reason, and he needs to do what is necessary to be a student athlete.”
The Trojans came out of the gate strong, something they had not been able to do in their first three games of the season. Against the Lumberjacks on Friday, USC struggled to find any sort of rhythm and trailed by double digits heading into the locker room.
Against Fullerton, USC struck early and often, and the outcome of the game was never in doubt. The Trojans were swarming defensively, and forced seven turnovers in the first six minutes.
On the other end, USC drew six quick fouls and was sent to the free throw line nine times in the first few minutes.
Against Northern Arizona, the Trojans were atrocious at the line, missing 17 shots at the charity stripe. After that game, Enfield made the players stay and make more than 100 free throws before heading home for the night.
Clearly the extra work was effective as USC improved from the line, making 21 out of 30 free throw attempts.
The early lead allowed Enfield to experiment with a few other players, most notably sophomore forward Strahinja Gavrilovic.
Gavrilovic entered the season as a potential starter at the power forward position, but had yet to make a big impact before tonight. He entered the game midway through the first half and was able to contribute quickly, notching a quick bucket and defending very actively.
In all, 11 players were used in the first half, a luxury that Enfield was able to afford as a result of his team’s dominating performance.
The second half saw more of the same, as the Trojans’ command of the game never faltered.
Freshman guard Julian Jacobs kept up his stellar play that has earned him a spot in the starting lineup, scoring five quick points to help the Trojans build their early lead. Jacobs finished the night with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
USC weathered a run from the Titans midway through the second, as Fullerton cut the lead to 10, but Enfield’s squad was able to persevere and never came close to giving up the lead.
Wesley, who has been the team’s most consistent player so far this season, took over in the second half and spurred a stagnant USC offense to keep the lead in double digits.
“He almost had a triple double, and he shot 80 percent from the field,” Enfield said. “We do expect a bit more on the defensive end sometimes, but that’s more a conditioning problem.”
A 3-pointer from senior guard Pe’Shon Howard a few minutes later bumped the lead back up to 14, virtually sealing the victory for the Trojans.
The Trojans were able to generate fast-break points thanks to Fullerton’s 17 turnovers.
“Defensively, we’re always active,” Jacobs said. “Whenever we get a rebound, we do our best to push and try to get an alley-oop.”
During the game’s final minutes, Enfield went with an unusual lineup, opting to rest Oraby for large stretches of time in favor of senior center D.J. Haley alongside Gavrilovic in the frontcourt. This lineup was able to hold off a final push for Fullerton and clinch the victory.
The Trojans pick up play again on Thursday against West Alabama at the Galen Center.
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