On Monday night against North Dakota State, USC experienced no spillover effects from their triumph over Cal State Fullerton in Friday night’s home opener. Monday, in front of a
half-filled Galen Center, the men’s basketball team sputtered out of the gate against a NDSU squad that lost its season opener to UC Santa Barbara on Saturday and escaped with a 75-65 win.
Although the Trojans (2-0) played markedly better in the second half, it could not separate from the Bison (0-2) until the final minutes. Two late runs finally propelled the Trojans to a nail-biting win, but this was not the game anyone expected to see less than a week until they travel to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt.
At one point in the first half, down double-digits, junior forward Chimezie Metu had to reenter the game with two fouls after sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic rolled his ankle and left for the locker game. Head coach Andy Enfield said after the game that Rakocevic will be out for a few days.
“Nick getting hurt in one minute and Chimezie getting two fouls [meant] we had to get out of our rotation,” Enfield said.
Enfield’s decision to bring back Metu paid dividends, as the forward immediately scored a lefty hook in the lane, which sparked a 12-2 run to tie the game 33-33 at the half.
Like Friday night, senior guard Jordan McLaughlin beat the buzzer to cap the run, this time with a reverse layup assisted by senior guard Elijah Stewart off a Bison turnover with five seconds to play.
The Trojans started the second half with conviction: Metu slammed two dunks in three minutes, including a rim-rattling alley-oop from junior forward Bennie Boatwright. Later he swatted away a dunk attempt and then add a third of his own. However, NDSU matched the energy tit for tat, and Enfield called a timeout after NDSU sophomore Deng Geu scored a pair of dunks to give his team a 56-51 lead with 9:28 remaining.
During that timeout, Enfield switched to a zone defense.
“They were spreading the floor with their shooters, so we decided to play zone for the last 10 minutes of the game,” Enfield said.
After USC switched to zone, NDSU scored only 9 points and one 3-pointer. The perimeter was locked down, but the game was still close.
Until then, NDSU had stayed in the game with its motion offense which brought a barrage of 3-pointers, 10 in total. The Bison returned a corps of four players who shot 40 percent from deep a season ago, but on Monday, redshirt freshman Cameron Hunter led the attack. Hunter, the son of legendary Kansas guard Cedric Hunter, had 24 points, going 8-of-11 from the floor.
Only when Geu, NDSU’s most athletic forward, fouled out with 5:15 to play, did the Trojans take control of the game, eventually going on a 10-0 run to grab a 70-60 fatal lead.
Leading the Trojans on Monday was Boatwright, who finished with a career-high 28 points. He shot 10-of-17 from the floor and 7-of-10 from the free throw line. Thirteen of his shot attempts were from the key. Boatwright, who made only one 3-pointer out of four attempts, was shocked he scored a career-high with such a stat line. After all, he was primarily a 3-point shooter his freshman year.
“Two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed this,” he said of his night.
Enfield added that Boatwright was in much better shape than he was as a freshman.
“He is able to put the ball on the floor, post-up and make plays for his teammates,” Enfield said.
Aside from Boatwright, USC shot 10-of-21 from the free throw line, 17-of-43 from the field, and 3-of-12 from beyond the arc.
“It was just one of those nights,” McLaughlin said. “We just got to get in the gym and practice shooting.”