It was all happy faces from Jordan Usher and Bennie Boatwright as they took their seats to speak to the media after the basketball team’s 90-75 victory over Cal State Bakersfield on Sunday at Galen Center.
Usher grinned and looked away when Boatwright said the sophomore guard was the “next big thing.” The senior forward also flashed a knowing grin when stating how tired he was after playing 38 minutes in his fourth game back from a knee injury.
With all the smiles, viewers would be surprised to learn Trojans had just played a tough game against an inferior yet feisty opponent. After trailing by 7 in the second half, USC pulled away with a 32-10 run over the last 11 and a half minutes.
The run was keyed by the efforts of Usher who scored 6 of his team-high 22 points off the bench during the run and carried the Trojans offensively for much of the night.
“It was just waiting my turn. I felt it was something coming, and I was supposed to have a game,” said Usher, who also led USC with nine rebounds. “Everyone has a night; tonight was just my night.”
Two straight 3-pointers from Boatwright put USC up 83-70 with 2:33 left, effectively ending the game.
“[Boatwright] had a pretty well-rounded game,” said head coach Andy Enfield of the senior, who scored 19 points on 50 percent shooting from both the floor and the 3-point line. “He’ll continue to get big minutes as long as he can. His shooting rate is through the roof.”
Despite failing to stop CSUB for much of the night, Enfield was pleased with how his defense clamped down during the run.
“I thought in the last six minutes, seven minutes, we did a great job of making them uncomfortable shooting,” Enfield said. “You saw some extra arc on their 3s, you saw some forced shots and that led to misses and rebounds for us. We were able to get out in transition, make the extra pass and hit some big shots.”
The Trojans played their best defense of the night during this stretch, limiting CSUB to a 4-of-20 mark from the field, but it was a mostly disappointing effort on that end of the court. USC could not contain dribble penetration, and it turned into easy looks for the Roadrunners, as they shot 12-of-27 from deep.
“They preached to us before the game that that was the only way they could beat us, from the 3-point line,” Boatwright said of his coaches. “They came out and they shot the ball unbelievably well.”
Roadrunner Damiyne Durham shredded the Trojans for 22 points, making six 3-pointers.
“He takes tough, tough shots and he makes them, so give him credit,” Enfield said of the redshirt senior guard. “He’s a great basketball player and sometimes you play as well as you can, and they still go in.”
USC also couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. The Trojans allowed 22 free throws, although the Roadrunners only made half. The Trojans also gave up 14 offensive rebounds, leading to 16 second chance points for CSUB.
The Trojans had to rely on a strong offensive effort to keep pace and pull out the victory.
USC shot 55.8 percent from the field and got to the line for 34 free throws, making 24. The Trojans also continued their hot outside shooting, making 10-of-22 attempts from behind the arc.
The Trojans missed guards redshirt junior Derryck Thornton and freshman Kevin Porter, two starters who sat out with an ankle and a thigh injury, respectively. Freshman guard Elijah Weaver stepped in for Thornton at the point in an up and down performance, scoring 7 points with five assists and four turnovers.
“He just has to get into a flow. He missed the entire preseason,” Enfield said. “This should be his third intra-squad scrimmage instead of a starting spot. These are the mistakes he should be making in early October versus almost December now because he missed so much time.”
The Trojans are now 4-2 and will host Long Beach State Wednesday before a home showdown against No. 6 Nevada on Saturday.