On Sunday, at Stanford’s Maple Pavilion, USC built a double-digit lead over the Cardinal twice and squandered it both times, resulting in a tragic buzzer-beater loss.
But on Wednesday, at the Galen Center, the Trojans built a double-digit lead in the second half against the Colorado Buffaloes, and their lead held en route to a 70-58 win.
“Our players bounced back and played extremely well tonight,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “I am proud of our effort.”
The game was defined by scrappy play as neither the Trojans (12-6, 3-2) nor the Buffs (10-7, 2-3) wished to fall below .500 in conference play. The lead changed seven times in the first half, each team shooting 6-11 from the 3-point range.
Aside from the shooting, nothing else was finesse about the half. Turnovers were an issue for both squads, USC committed eight and Colorado, twelve. The Trojans’ starters only scored 21 points, but the bench filled the void with 17 to give USC a slim 38-34 lead.
Sophomore guard Jonah Mathews, who did not start tonight, provided a big spark off the bench with 9 points.
Regarding his decision to start redshirt junior guard Shaqquan Aaron over Mathews, Enfield said, “Sometimes you just need to shake things up. [Mathews] wasn’t himself and wasn’t playing up to his capabilities. Tonight, he just played great.”
Mathews said he was not bothered by having to give up his starting role.
Nevertheless, Mathews played starters’ minutes — 27 to be exact — because Aaron was limited by foul trouble.
In the second half, the Trojans buckled down on defense to hold the Buffaloes to 24 points. Junior forward Chimezie Metu fiercely protected the rim, recording a career-high six blocks.
“[Metu] was a monster inside,” Enfield said. “He brought energy on defense.”
Metu finished with a gorgeous statline: 14 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks, plus two steals and an assist. Although he only shot 3-13 from the field, he shot 8-8 from the free throw line. His battering mate down-low, junior forward Bennie Boatwright, also shot poorly. In fact, he played his worst game of the season, finishing 1-9 from the floor with only three points.
Despite USC’s two leading scorers this season combining for a pitiful 4-22 from the floor, the Trojans shot 24-55 (43.6 percent) as a team and 9-17 (52.9 percent) from the 3-point range. Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin, who prefers to pass first, shifted his mentality. He scored 20 points with only three assists.
Alongside him in the backcourt, redshirt sophomore guard Derryck Thornton had his best performance of the year. Handsy and in-your-face on defense, Thornton stole the ball four times. The Trojans forced 22 turnovers. Additionally, Thornton shot 4-6 from the field. The rhythm on both sides of the ball seemed in sync with Thornton throughout the game.
Overall, Enfield viewed the victory as a step in the right direction.
“We’re not a finished product,” Enfield said, adding that he is very impressed with the team’s direction. “We’ve been playing good basketball the last four games. We’re 1.7 seconds away from being 4-0.”
In a crowded Pac-12 field, defending home court is imperative. The Trojans will look for the sweep over the mountain schools this Sunday when facing Utah at the Galen Center.