Senior forward Bennie Boatwright made his return from injury Wednesday night as the USC men’s basketball team cruised to a solid bounceback victory over the visiting Stetson Hatters 95-59.
USC has to be pleased about Boatwright’s strong season debut. Boatwright, who has dealt with a rash of injuries throughout his career, is the Trojans’ captain, and showed his unique blend of big man and shooter. He finished with 16 points and four 3-pointers in just 18 minutes.
Boatwright spoke humbly about his return and what he learned from sitting on the sidelines.
“Mentally, I’m going to stay even-keeled,” said Boatwright. “That’s going to be important, being a leader. Struggle helps you a lot mentally. When you go through pains, you gotta find a way to get through it… I feel like that’s what I overcame to come back from this injury.”
Head coach Andy Enfield praised Boatwright for settling in smoothly as he came off the bench.
“He came in, shared the ball, and made some good plays for his teammates … we got him going in the second half,” Enfield said. “We need his perimeter shooting, his size, his experience, and it just looked like he was in total control when he played.”
The energy from their leader’s return — coupled with the fact that USC simply was more athletic — got the Trojans out and running from the start, as they raced to a 30-7 lead and never looked back. Though the Trojans struggled from deep outside of Boatwright’s shooting, finishing 7-of-23 as a whole, they showed much more defensive composure and discipline with only 11 team fouls after 3 players fouled out in the loss against Vanderbilt Sunday.
However, strong transition game starts with defense; USC proved itself by limiting Stetson to 31 percent shooting from the field, including an 18 percent mark from three. Only sophomore guard Christiaan Jones scored in double-digits for the Hatters, as they simple could not get into a rhythm and keep up with USC’s uptempo pace.
Junior big man Nick Rakocevic had 16 points and 12 rebounds, his third straight double-double to open the season, while limiting Stetson’s leading scorer, junior forward Ricardo Lynch, to just 3 points. Now averaging 17.7 and 15.3 on the year, Rakocevic and Boatwright have the makings of a formidable inside-out duo in the frontcourt that could carry the team all season.
“Nick played another good game,” Enfield said. “Had his typical double-double — that’s what we call him now, the double-double man… he’s rebounded at a high level, tips a lot of balls, he’s one of the best offensive rebounders you’ll see anywhere and we’re really proud of his development.”
It was a night of firsts for young players. Freshman guard Elijah Weaver scored 9 points in his college debut, and freshman guard Kevin Porter made his first start against the Hatters, with a line of 12 points and three assists.
“He’s a great passer, he’s very athletic, he shares the ball and he sees the floor,” Enfield said of Weaver. “He’s a very unique talent with his court vision, like a quarterback on a football team.”
Porter also spoke confidently about Enfield’s simple, yet effective game plan.
“Just coming into the game and wanting to start out fast, that’s what we did,” Porter said. “We just had to maintain it. It’s just basketball, we’ve been doing this all our lives, up to this point… you see the results.”
Now 2-1 on the season, USC will host Cal State Bakersfield Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Galen Center.
Sophomore forward Charles O’Bannon Jr. will be out for four weeks after undergoing surgery on his finger, according to Enfield.