USC men’s basketball takes down Providence in First Four

It almost felt like revisionist history. After suffering heartbreak at the buzzer against Providence at last season’s NCAA Tournament, USC once again opened its tourney bid against the Friars in 2017, this time in the First Four. The Trojans met their opponents in Dayton, Ohio on Wednesday in a rematch of 2016’s first-round contest for the right to officially enter the bracket of this year’s Big Dance, and head coach Andy Enfield’s squad exacted revenge on the Friars, advancing with a 75-71 victory.

Sophomore Bennie Boatwright led the Trojans early on, draining two 3-pointers in the opening five minutes and scoring 10 of USC’s first 12 points. Though the initial surge allowed the Trojans to maintain a 5- to 6-point lead for parts of the first half, Providence hit back. Two quick threes from Jalen Lindsey put the Friars on top by 1 point with 12:50 left in the period.

USC responded in turn and reestablished its 5-point advantage. The Trojans ran into trouble from that point, however, missing their next six shots. The Friars ran over a suddenly stagnant USC, going on a 15-0 run to grab a double-digit lead. A 3-pointer from junior guard Jordan McLaughlin snapped the Trojans’ dry streak coming out of a timeout, but Providence was already in rhythm. A 7-0 run padded the Friar lead to 13 as halftime loomed, and Providence led 44-29 by the time Enfield led his squad into the locker room, having been outscored 29-9 to close out the period.

USC chipped away at the deficit to open the second half. A 4-point play from freshman guard Jonah Mathews sparked the Trojans, with McLaughlin following up with a three to cut it down to an 11-point game, and another Boatwright triple pulled USC back within single digits with 12:38 left to play. Freshman forward Nick Rakocevic then drew two fouls and scored 5 quick points to lead the Trojan rally. Enfield’s squad found itself down by just 5 entering the final quarter of the game as Providence head coach Ed Cooley called timeout after a Metu tip-in.

Two free throws from Rakocevic put USC within one possession of the Friars, and the Trojans completed their 17-point turnaround with 6:48 left in the game, taking a 61-60 edge thanks to a pair of jump shots from McLaughlin and Metu. A two-handed slam from Metu extended the lead to 5 in style with less than five minutes remaining, and USC maintained the advantage until Providence was forced to foul. The Trojans executed at the free-throw line to seal the win and the biggest comeback from a Pac-12 school in NCAA Tournament history.

SMU is next up for Enfield and company, as USC takes on the Mustangs in the first round for another rematch — this time from the regular season. The Trojans beat SMU 78-75 at the Galen Center in November, but since then, head coach Tim Jankovich’s side has won the AAC Championship, last losing to Cincinnati on Jan. 12. The Mustangs then beat the Bearcats in their two subsequent rematches — a trend USC will look to reverse on Friday.

USC and SMU tip off in Tulsa, Okla. on Friday at 12:10 p.m.