Arizona State's Tra Holder scored a game-high 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting, including making four of his six 3-pointers, but it was the one he missed with 1:09 remaining that will probably having him tossing and turning as he tries to sleep tonight. Instead of giving the Sun Devils the lead, the shot was rebounded by Julian Jacobs, who passed ahead to Chimezie Metu, who threw down a dunk in transition.
Then it happened again. Missed three-pointer, USC layup. And then once more! Missed three-pointer, USC layup. The Galen Center crowd was going bonkers.
In 35 seconds, USC had gone from potentially blowing a 17-point second half lead (just one game after blowing a 22-point second half lead in a two-point loss to Washington) to comfortably holding an eight-point lead with 34 seconds remaining. The Trojans went on to beat the Sun Devils, 75-65, to improve to 13-3 (2-1).
The win eclipsed their 2014-15 season total with at least 16 games to play.
Julian Jacobs led the Trojans with 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting and had five assists after being questionable throughout the week with an ankle injury. Bennie Boatwright scored 10 points in the first half and had 14 for the game as the Trojans had only two players score in double figures for the first time this season.
Six USC players did score seven or more points as USC shot 49.1 percent for the game and held Arizona State to just 38.2 percent. Darion Clark also finished with 10 rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. He now has 19 rebounds in 33 minutes the last two games.
Here's three takeaways from USC's win at the Galen Center Thursday night:
Twice as Nice
Julian Jacobs was anything but certain to play. He didn't practice all week after rolling the same ankle that he has sprained on multiple occasions this season.
"I was so impressed with his game tonight. I didn't think he would play," Enfield said. "He called me at 7 this morning and basically begged me to let him go through shootaround."
Jacobs navigated the shootaround with no visible discomfort and told Enfield he could play. The coach told him he would be a game-time decision, but Jacobs proved he was ready to go.
"He was so emphatic about playing that I felt like my hands were tied."
Jacobs had a relatively quiet team-high 15 points, but his impact was noticed more in other areas where Jordan McLaughlin wasn't forced to carry the load by himself. The duo, who entered the game first and second in the conference in assists, combined for 13 assists and were able to control the tempo and keep USC steady even as Arizona State whittled away the lead.
"We lost our composure Sunday [at Washington] when they were making their run," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "We made some costly turnovers that we normally don't make. It was a learning experience. We didn't want that to happen tonight. In this league, every team goes on these runs. You have to be able to stop them as soon as possible."
The Sun Devils went on a 13-2 run, but when Holder missed his shot the Trojans' two point guards turned the tide with three consecutive fast break baskets.
Unlike against Washington when Holder missed, the Trojans had a 6-foot-4 guard that was capable of going up to get the rebound, turning to look upcourt and get the ball ahead for an easy dunk for Chimezie Metu. That's because Julian Jacobs was back and the Trojans had two lead guards capable of handling the ball, the offense and the pressure. After Metu's dunk, McLaughlin rebounded a miss and pushed to Katin Reinhardt for a basket and then rebounded another shot and found a streaking Jacobs, who finished off a layup to assure a victory in the final minute.
Sure Don't Look Like Freshmen
USC's two-man freshman class of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu just continues to provide increased dividends with each passing game. Boatwright, who has been a starter all season, scored 14 points, knocking down five of his nine shots, including two of his trio of three-point attempts. He was very aggressive on the defensive glass, going full throttle to yank a couple of rebounds away from Arizona State players.
On one of those occasions, he wrestled the ball free and then turned and took the ball upcourt, but he didn't stop and hand the ball off. He kept going, taking the ball to the basket where he made a contested floater over a defender. The play just exemplified how versatile he already is.https://twitter.com/USC_Hoops/status/685322221259128832
"Bennie is a terrific player. He has an unbelieveable work ethic, basketball IQ and he is getting better," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "He has really improved.
"He's improved his body. He's improved his skillset and he's improved his decision making. His best basketball is ahead of him. He's just scratching the surface."
Not to be outdone, Metu had the highlight of the night when, off an inbounds pass, he finished off an alley-oop way above the rim.https://twitter.com/USC_Hoops/status/685315053118033921
I mean...just look at how up he gets! That's not something previous post players Aaron Fuller, Omar Oraby or James Blasczyk was doing while at USC.https://twitter.com/USC_Hoops/status/685319110478069761
Metu finished a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor and had nine points. Granted three of those buckets were dunks to increase his team lead to 24, which is exctly the same number of dunks as opponents have against USC. But Metu also showed his shooting touch with a nice 17-foot baseline jumper that he shot with confidence and swished it through. Then there is his impact on the defensive end where he added two more blocks to give him a team-high 30 -- seventh on USC's all-time list for freshmen.
Infectious Energy and Effort
"This team is really, really cohesive. We love seeing one another do well," Julian Jacobs said.
Then he pointed out that if you just watch the bench in a side-by-side comparison of this year versus last year, you'll see a drastic difference. While the Trojans aren't some secondary circus show like the Monmouth bench, the players not in the game are right in the action and are rooting hard for their teammates.
"Every time a shot goes up from say Bennie [Boatwright] or Katin [Reinhardt], the entire bench stands up. The energy is just...the difference is night and day. It's infectious."
The Trojans are playing unselfish basketball and are giving great effort throughout the game. That's why when guys like Darion Clark, Malik Marquetti or Malik Martin check in the game, they are going full throttle the entire time. All three players started at least 15 games last season. Now they are all role players coming off the bench, but they aren't pouting about it and causing consternation in the locker room.
"All the guys stay ready so when they get in the game they are ready to go," Boatwright said. "Everybody knows that everyone is ready to go."
When you know that your teammate beside you is going to give you everything he's got, it makes you want to play just as hard for him. It may not be something that is noticed, but it has an effect.
"We know what it's like to lose. That's not fun. This year, we're doing anything possible to keep our momentum going."
The Trojans will now try to carry the momentum to the next game when they face No. 7 Arizona.
The Galen Center should feature its largest crowd of the season thus far as the Arizona Wildcats come in to face the Trojans. The Wildcats are coming off a buzzer beater loss at UCLA and haven't lost two games in a row since the 2012-13 season when they lost...wait for it...at USC and UCLA. To earn what would be their best win of the season, the Trojans will have to play a full 40 minutes, something that continues to plague them to a small extent.