The USC men’s basketball team hosted Florida A&M in its season opener at Galen Center Tuesday and emerged with a commanding 77-48 win.
Freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu highlighted the victory with an impressive double-double in his collegiate debut. The top-25 recruit from Chino Hills High School posted 20 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks, tying the school record for rejections in a single game.
“It felt really good [to play],” Okongwu said after the game. “It’s been a long couple of months of practices, and it’s fun to finally go out there and finally play for real.”
The Trojans started off the game slowly in the first half, making only a third of their shots from the field and going 1-of-9 from the free-throw line.
However, USC stepped it up in the second half, shooting 55.9% from the field and making 13 of their last 14 attempts from the line.
Despite a poor 3-for-17 3-point shooting performance from head coach Andy Enfield’s squad, there were many bright moments for USC, especially during the second half. The Trojan defense clamped down on the Rattlers, and holding Florida A&M to a true shooting percentage of 32.2% helped USC pull off the 29-point victory.
The Trojans also dominated the interior throughout the night, scoring 50 of their 77 points in the paint.
“We’re actually a pretty good shooting team,” Enfield said. “[Redshirt senior guards] Quinton Adlesh and Daniel Utomi and [senior guard] Jonah Matthews; these guys are high-level shooters, and they just didn’t make their threes tonight.”
Enfield referred to those three as USC’s best shooters, but added that their combined 1-for-11 3-point shooting night cannot be the norm moving forward.
“That has to improve if we’re going to be more consistent offensively,” Enfield said.
But there were plenty of highlights that brought Trojan fans to their feet, including all three of freshman guard Ethan Anderson’s alley-oop passes that Okongwu emphatically finished. The two-time California Mr. Basketball winner Okongwu blasted a corner three attempt into the stands for his sixth block of the game before following with a dunk on the other end of the floor.
USC made five of its last six field goals before the first timeout of the second half was called.
Whenever the Rattlers had a nice play, the Trojans answered right back. Florida A&M redshirt junior forward DJ Jones dunked over USC sophomore Elijah Weaver on a fast break, but freshman forward Max Agbonkpolo answered right back with a 3-pointer to give USC a 21-point lead with eight minutes remaining in the contest.
Freshman forward Isaiah Mobley also had some highlights en route to a 17-point, seven-rebound effort. The combined abilities of Mobley and Okongwu make for a dangerous freshman tandem.
“The chemistry is there, and I think our games complement each other well,” Mobley said on his relationship with Okongwu. “It made sense for both of us to come [to USC].”
2020 John R. Wooden Watch List member and senior forward Nick Rakocevic played 13 minutes and went 2-for-6 from the field, but Enfield still had high praise for the 2020 preseason first-team All-Pac-12 selection.
“Nick Rakocevic is a terrific offensive rebounder, one of the best I’ve ever coached in my 25 years,” Enfield said.
Rakocevic ranks No. 15 on USC’s all-time rebounds list with 668 after Tuesday’s game.
USC will host Portland in its next game Friday as the Trojans get ready to compete in four of their next five contests at Galen Center before heading to Florida for the 2019 ESPN Orlando Invitational Thanksgiving weekend. Friday’s game will tip off at 8 p.m. and be broadcasted live on the Pac-12 Network.