During his halftime speech, USC head coach Andy Enfield implored his team to pick up the tempo. The Trojans were leading a sloggish game against SMU, 28-27.
"We didn't have the flow on offense and it was just a grind it out game," Enfield said. "We felt we had to get it out and open the floor up a little bit."
USC did that, nearly doubling their first half output with a 50-point performance in the second half to take a quality 78-73 win at the Galen Center Friday evening.
The Trojans (5-0) fell behind by four points early in the second half, but used a 14-0 run, keyed by nine points, two rebounds and a steal from freshman De'Anthony Melton. They traded baskets with SMU (4-2) for the final 10 minutes with USC's lead fluctuating between 6-12 points until the final second of the game when a pair of Shake Milton free throws gave the final tally.
Melton finished with a career-high 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He also grabbed six rebounds to go with five assists, one block and one steal. Fellow freshman guard Jonah Mathews also had a career-high with 14 points. He made three of four field goal attempts and got seven points at the free throw line.
Bennie Boatwright led all scorers with a season-high 17 points. Boatwright made four of his seven 3-pointers as USC finished the game 12-for-24 from deep.
Ben Moore led four SMU players in double figures with 14 points. Leading scorer Semi Ojeleye entered averaging 20.6 points, but the Duke transfer was held to 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He had 10 rebounds, but three turnovers.
SMU (41.5) was the first team to shoot above 40 percent against USC this season, but the Trojans shot 49.1 percent to make up for it.
Here's three takeaways from USC's easy win over New Orleans Tuesday evening:
Back at it with Bennie Buckets
Bennie Boatwright was understandably rusty in his first two games. After missing two months to rehab an inch-wide muscle tear in his right hip, he had tried to quickly get his rhythm back by getting up as many shots as he could, but instead he suffered a setback when he had a minor nerve issue in the back of his shooting shoulder. The secondary injury forced him to miss the first two games of the season and he struggled in his first two games back. Boatwright was 5-for-24 from the field, including 2-for-15 on three-point attempts.
"I definitely was pressing. I was shooting out of rhythm shots. My rhythm was all off. Everything, it was all bad."
Boatwright found some rhythm Friday evening. After setting up Chimezie Metu with a nice feed inside for the Trojans' first points of the game, Boatwright drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. It was the start of a 17-point outing that included four 3-pointers going through the nets.
"He wanted so badly to help his team and to be back out there that for the first two games he wasn’t in sync," Andy Enfield said. "He wasn’t playing in the flow. He was just trying to do too much in too short a time. I thought tonight he really played in the flow of the offense and then tonight we got him the ball in crucial situations and he made some great plays."
Boatwright also got the task of guarding SMU forward Semi Ojeleye on the defensive end and helped hold him to a season-low 13 points.
"When a guy averages 20 and 9, that means he's a tough matchup for anybody," Enfield said. "I thought Bennie did a great job moving his feet."
USC's leading scorer was 2-for-8 from the field and had six points. The Trojans' second leading scorer hardly registered an impact with seven points in 18 minutes. Their third leading scorer and top post player managed nearly as many fouls and turnovers as he did points and rebounds. USC's junior captain had six points and five assists while turning the ball over three times.
Having your top three scorers finishing with seven points or fewer is not a recipe for success, yet the Trojans played their most complete game, scoring 50 points in the second half and pulling away for a solid win. They showed they don't have a big performance from a particular player or two in order to win.
Instead of Elijah Stewart, Shaqquan Aaron, Chimezie Metu and Jordan McLaughlin, it was the return of Bennie Boatwright and the energy of freshmen guards De'Anthony Melton and Jordan Mathews, who combined for 29 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Doing it with Defense
The Trojans fell behind by four points early in the second half and didn't have typical production from thier usual leaders, but still found a way to win. It was because of their defensive effort in the second half.
"I thought our players really showed some poise when we got behind in the second half to ramp up the defense and get out in transition and eventually win the game," Andy Enfield said.
The stats don't necessarily showcase USC's defensive effort. The Mustangs shot 47.1 percent in the second half and only turned the ball over five times.
But when USC got stops, it immediately turned and tried to push the tempo. The Trojans made the most of the opportunities they got, scoring all nine of the game's fast break points in the second half. FIve of those fast break points came during their 14-0 run -- all five from De'Anthony Melton.
"Once we were getting more stops, we were getting out and running," Melton said. "It's just fun to play when we're getting out and running and everyone is just getting open shots."
The Trojans will play their third game this week when they return to Galen Center on Sunday at 7 p.m. to take on winless UC Santa Barbara (0-4). USC won at Santa Barbara last season, 75-63, and will be favored to beat the Guachos once more. The teams have a pair of common opponents in Nebraska-Omaha and SMU. UCSB lost to the former by 14 points and the latter by 27 while USC has victories over both.
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