Men’s hoops maintains perfect start with win over Pepperdine

Freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu had 33 points and earned 21 free throw attempts during USC’s win over Pepperdine Tuesday night. Okongwu has the second-most points on his team this season behind senior forward Nick Rakocevic. (James Wolfe / Daily Trojan)

USC men’s basketball came away with a 91-84 win against Pepperdine Tuesday night behind valiant efforts from freshmen forwards Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu and senior forward Nick Rakocevic.

The Trojans’ win over the Waves brings them to a 5-0 start to the season. The last time USC was able to pull this off was in 2016 when the team kicked off its season with 14 straight wins.

USC started off the game slowly, shooting 2-7 from deep and giving up six turnovers, which allowed Pepperdine to climb to a 23-14 lead heading into the second media timeout of the contest. Poor overall ball movement and shooting were to blame for this, but the Trojans’ second-half sped up the team’s offense quickly.

“It was a good win against a very good team,” head coach Andy Enfield said after the game. “I thought our guys played hard all night.”

Okongwu led the Trojans with 33 points on the evening and had 21 out of USC’s 34 free-throw attempts, but Waves junior guard Colbey Ross was arguably the game’s most impressive performer. Ross knocked down a career-high 38 points and shot 65% from the field. His efforts kept Pepperdine in the game, especially down the stretch.

Each team shot about as well as the other from the field, from 3-point range and from the line. However, USC was able to edge out a win by earning more rebounds, assists and free throw attempts than Pepperdine.

Enfield and the rest of the Trojans’ coaching staff took advantage of the team’s depth to create a solid all-around win. Redshirt senior guard Quinton Adlesh made just one field goal in 20 minutes, but it was a momentum-boosting 3-pointer to give USC a 32-31 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the first half.

“In practice, we’re a pretty good shooting team,” Enfield said. “We had to take open shots, and at some point, the guys that are supposedly shooters have to make them.”

Mobley’s usage percentage was a game-high 39% despite only playing for a total of 18 minutes. Rakocevic — who was honored before the game alongside senior guard Jonah Mathews for reaching USC’s 1,000 point club — made his first 3-pointer of the season and contributed some efficient passes.

“[Rakocevic] made some really nice passes that led to easy baskets,” Enfield said. “If we can get that productivity out of our three bigs, or even close to it, that would be pretty good.”

Pepperdine only had five total assists compared to the Trojans’ 22. Three of its assists came from Ross, while Rakocevic — who was named Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Player of the Week Monday — led USC with six assists.

On the defensive end, despite Ross’ performance, USC was able to prevent sophomore Pepperdine forward Kessler Edwards from scoring a single point. Coming into Galen Center, Edwards led all Pepperdine players with an average of 17.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. However, the Rancho Cucamonga native shot 0-7 from the field Tuesday.

Heading into Friday’s game against Temple, USC will have to prepare to face a second opponent that made the NCAA tournament last season. Temple made a First Four appearance before losing to Belmont.

“Our schedule is going to get a little challenging here with Temple coming in,” Enfield said. “We have to come out and defend like we have for most of the season.”

USC will take on a 3-0 Temple squad at Galen Center Friday at 8 p.m. before traveling to the East Coast to take on a 1-4 Fairfield team. Friday’s game will be televised on Pac-12 Network.