USC comfortably secured a 76-65 victory against the Portland Pilots Friday night at Galen Center. Portland played a competitive game throughout, but standout performances by two Trojan freshmen proved too much for it to handle.
Freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu led USC with a team high 20 points while shooting 76.9% from the field. Okongwu also grabbed 10 rebounds — also a team high — including five on the offensive end.
“He does a lot on his own,” head coach Andy Enfield said of Okongwu after the game. “We don’t run a ton of plays for him … but he’s constantly … running the floor. So he does a lot of it on his own, but in our system, he plays a very important position for us and he does it very well.” (2.20)
Enfield also had high praise for Okongwu’s performance on the glass.
“He’s able to read the ball when it’s in mid-air and go get it off the glass or off the rim, so you’ll see even when he doesn’t get it, he’s close or he’s tipping the ball or trying to get it,” Enfield said. “He’s relentless … It was very impressive.”
Freshman guard Ethan Anderson also had himself a night. The Los Angeles native came off the bench and dished out a team high 10 assists to go along with four rebounds in 21 minutes.
“He had a really controlled game [and] I thought he made the right reads,” Enfield said of Anderson. “Anytime you get 10 assists in a game, that’s impressive, especially for a freshman … He has great court vision, he’s a tough kid and I thought he gave us a big jump off the bench.”
USC started the game fast and at one point led the Pilots by 12 points. After shooting 3-17 from beyond the arc in its first game, USC shot 53.9% from 3-point range in the first half Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, the Pilots had a solid night beyond the arc themselves, shooting 46.4%.
“Give Portland credit. I thought they came in and played an excellent basketball game,” Enfield said. “[They] made some shots. They made 13 threes — a few of those were very tough, contested threes, but give them credit because I felt they shot the ball great.”
After emerging from the first half leading by only 6, USC allowed the Pilots to tie the game at 48 with a jumper by redshirt junior guard Malcolm Porter with just over 15 minutes remaining.
The tie would last all of 20 seconds before senior forward Nick Rakocevic scored to give the Trojans a lead they would not relinquish.
Rakocevic finished the night with 11 points, three steals and eight rebounds.
Several other upperclassmen also put up impressive numbers for USC. Senior guard Jonah Mathews scored 12 points, all of which came from behind the 3-point line. Redshirt senior guard Daniel Utomi picked up four rebounds — including three offensive — in 24 minutes.
Redshirt senior guard Quinton Adlesh had an impressive performance from deep as well. The transfer from Columbia University scored 9 points on a perfect 3-3 3-point shooting effort.
Mathews described how important the veteran presence of Utomi and Adlesh is for the team.
“They come in the game and they already know what the deal is,” Mathews said. “They’ve been in college basketball for four-plus years, so you don’t have to tell them anything. Just having that experience with them on the court helps me a lot and all the young kids and the new guys. I like having them here.”
Down the stretch, Anderson found Okongwu twice in the paint for an emphatic dunk and a layup.
“[Okongwu] helps a great deal,” Anderson said. “When I come off the pick and roll or whether I’m dribbling in transition, I can see that I have a lot of talent around me. So they can’t really help off-shooters, and then you have Big O coming and [it’s like] having a big safety net. So if my shot is not there, I can throw it anywhere by the rim and he just goes up and gets it … It makes my job a lot easier.”
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect performance by USC. Enfield identified the areas the Trojans will need to improve moving forward.
“The turnovers,” Enfield said after USC gave the ball away 20 times. “[Also] some of the defensive mistakes … [Portland] made 13 threes. So we’re going to have to try to run guys off the line and really be quicker to help.”
USC will take on South Dakota State Tuesday night at Galen Center. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.