Star USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson said last Saturday that it's not how you start, it's how you finish after getting beat for a touchdown, but getting two interceptions, including one that sealed a victory for the Trojans over No. 4 Washington.
His message must have travelled across campus to the Galen Center before the USC basketball team left for Texas A&M.
The Trojans stole a win at Reed Arena Friday night, 65-63, thanks to runs late in each half that pushed USC past the Aggies. After using a 16-4 run to take a two-point halftime lead, the Trojans finished the game on a 10-1 push in the final 3:25 to pull off the win in an arena that Texas A&M went 17-1 last season.
"Our goal was to try to compete and have a chance at the end and that's what we did," USC head coach Andy Enfield said after the game. "I give our players a lot of credit for being mature enough to withstand their runs and finish the game on a positive note and get out of here with a victory."
Chimezie Metu led USC with 14 points, including the two that gave the Trojans the lead with 17.7 seconds remaining. With Texas A&M leading 63-62, Metu stood tall as JC Hampton drove hard to the basket, forcing a missed shot that USC grabbed and pushed ahead.
Bennie Boatwright quickly hoisted a 3-pointer, but it floated to the middle of the lane after being partially blocked. Metu leapt up and tipped the ball out toward halfcourt where it was corralled by Jordan McLaughlin. McLaughlin turned and surveyed the defense, seeing Metu alone on the opposite block. He lofted a pass just above the rim where Metu grabbed it and slammed it home to put USC ahead.
De'Anthony Melton stole the ball in the backcourt on the Aggies' subsequent possession and was fouled. He made one of two free throws, giving Texas A&M a final shot to tie or take the lead, but D.J. Hogg's three-pointer clanked off the front of the rim, giving USC a road victory.
McLaughlin scored 13 points on 6-of-13 shooting and had four assists. Elijah Stewart finished with 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. He also grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds for his second career double-double.
Hogg knocked down five of his 11 three-point attempts and finished with a game-high 17 points. Tonny Trocha-Morelos scored 15 points and tied for the Aggie lead with seven rebounds.
Here's three takeaways from USC's come-from-behind victory over Texas A&M on Friday evening:
With 3:05 remaining in the first half, Elijah Stewart knocked down a 3-pointer. It was the first time USC saw a deep shot go through the net after watching the first 11 clank away. On their next possession, Jordan McLaughlin knocked down a 3-pointer. Another one came from Stewart on the next trip down the floor. A turnover led to Bennie Boatwright's turn to drain a three ball. On USC's final opportunity of the first half, McLaughlin shot over Texas A&M center Robert Williams, swishing through a shot at the buzzer that was initially ruled a three, but changed to a two-pointer after a video review.
USC turned a 10-point deficit into a two-point halftime lead by finally making some jump shots.
The Trojans were 0-for-9 on 3-pointers in the second half until De'Anthony Melton made a deep ball in the midst of a 10-1 USC run to end the game.
"We struggled all night to make open jump shots and we missed a few dunks in the first half. We just made some shots down the stretch," Enfield said. "We didn't shoot a great percentage for the game and neither did that because both defenses were outstanding. But I think we just made some shots and played good basketball."
Tough Down Low
"Texas A&M has one of the best frontlines in the United States."
Andy Enfield is prone to hyperbole when describing USC's opponents, but this time there isn't any exaggeration. The Aggies have preseason All-SEC Tyler Davis along with 6-foot-9 freshman Robert Williams, 6-foot-10 Tonny Trocha-Morelos and 6-foot-11 Eric Vila. They have six players that are 6-foot-8 or taller and all weigh at least 220 pounds.
"They have Davis, who is a true low-post player, but their other bigs are very athletic and had very good low-post moves and they blocked shots and they rebound."
USC held Davis to just eight points and eight rebounds after he got in foul trouble early and never could stay on the court for long stretches. Trocha-Morelos and WIlliams both scored in double figures and grabbed seven rebounds each, but against that very big front court, USC, as a collective, won the rebounding battle, 47-44, and scored more points in the paint, 32-30.
"We need to do a good job rebounding the ball and our players actually out-rebounded them. That was a huge part of the game."
Welcome Back, Bennie
After missing two games with a minor nerve issue in his shoulder, Bennie Boatwright returned to the starting lineup to make his season debut Friday. Boatwright struggled on the offensive end, shooting just 3-of-13 to score nine points to go with three tunovers. He did have six rebounds and one steal in 31 minutes.
It wasn't a great game, but Boatwright helped provide the Trojans with more of a post presence going up against Texas A&M's bigs and opened the floor up with the threat of his shooting. It was also important for a young USC roster to have one of its four returners back.
"He's been through it before," Enfield said before praising his play. "He played very good defense. He played well offensively but he just didn't make his shots, so he had some open looks. He needs to get his legs back. I'm really proud of him because he's been out for two months, hasn't really practiced and for his first game to be on the road in this type of environment, he played hard and he gave us that leadership and that experience that we so desperately needed."
The Trojans return to Galen Center where they will take on the New Orleans Privateers on Tuesday at 6 p.m. New Orleans is 1-1 on the season with a blowout win over a Division III school and a blowout loss to Oklahoma State.
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