USC was playing well, but a string of three straight misses in the middle of the second half, allowed Washington State to take its first lead of the second half. A Josh Hawkinson putback dunk put it up by two and capped the Cougars' 20-8 run.
The Trojans needed an answer.
Freshman Jonah Mathews provided that with a 3-pointer from the left wing on a Bennie Boatwright drive and kick. USC went ahead 60-59. It had two options: get some stops or not miss again.
It chose the latter. Washington State shot 52.6 percent in the second half and 48.5 percent for the game, but the Trojans ran away with an 86-77 victory in Beasley Coliseum Saturday evening to sweep a Pac-12 road trip for the first time under head coach Andy Enfield.
"It means our players are maturing and getting better," Enfield said of winning away from home. “That was a big goal of ours this year to be able to play consistent basketball when we go away from the Galen Center."
USC (20-4, 7-4) missed only one field goal attempt in the last 10:27. That was its final attempt, but it had already pushed the lead up to 14 points the possession prior. The Trojans shot 73.9 percent in the second half, including making six of their 10 three-point attempts, to shoot a season-high 57.1 percent for the game.
Bennie Boatwright started the run with a three-pointer, added a layup, took a charge on the other end, hit another three-pointer and dished a pass to Chimezie Metu for a dunk. Boatwright's three-point attempts were the anomaly. During the last 10:27, Mathews and Boatwright's threes were outliers. The Trojans did their damage at the rim with four layups and three Metu dunks.
Metu's dunking prowess created one of the highlights of the season in the first half. He flew in from the top of the key on a missed three-pointer, caught the ball in his right hand outside the frame of the backboard and threw down a monstrous one-hand putback slam. Enfield called it the best he's seen in his coaching days:
USC's sophomore sensation finished with a career-high 29 points, making 10 of his 12 field goal attempts, including all seven in the second half. Mathews added 18 points on 6 of 10 shooting, including going four of six from downtown. Boatwright and Elijah Stewart both made 5 of 10 shots to score 13 points.
Ike Iroegbu led Washington State with 22 points on 9 of 17 shooting while double-double machine Hawkinson had 17 points (7-14 FG) and 16 rebounds.
Here's three takeaways from USC's 86-77 win over the Cougars Saturday evening:
Metu is the Man
After having only six games scoring in double figures last season, Chimezie Metu has broken out this season in an expanded role. He has only scored less than 10 points on four occasions. After his career-high 29 point-performance, Metu is leading the Trojans, averaging 14.3 points per game, including 15.7 in Pac-12 play. He is shooting 53.8 percent from the field and has improved his free throw shooting from 51.3 to 73.3 percent from last year to this season.
Metu is an athletic beast, especially when USC can create some space with its offense and throw the ball up to the rim for their sophomore big man. He had six dunks against Washington State that could all be used in a highlight reel, but also showed his offensive arsenal with an array of moves. He made an Hakeem Olajuwon imitation turnaround jumper and added a nice spin move to the middle before finishing with his left hand.
Metu's offensive game continues to develop week after week. And one of those steps is being more aggressive against slow-footed bigs like the Cougars have with Conor Clifford and Josh Hawkinson.
"Every team you play has different strengths and weaknesses on the defensive end," Enfield said. "He obviously thought that he could get to the rim and so he did. He played his game. He put the ball on the floor. He ripped it through hard to the rim, finished around the rim, had a couple of spin moves. Then he went to the foul line and made five out of six."
For 18 games, USC played without 6-foot-10 walking mismatch Bennie Boatwright and instead of working his way back into a groove like the first couple of games after returning from missing the Trojans' initial pair of games this season, Boatwright was already sitting in the groove when he came off the bench against Washington. He scored a career-high 23 points in only 21 minutes. He was instant offense off the bench.
He proved once again on Saturday how much of he can affect the game when in the lineup. Boatwright didn't have as big a game as earlier in the week. He finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal. But when the Trojans needed a game changer, it was Boatwright providing big plays. He had eight points and drew a charge on the defensive end in a two-minute span as the Trojans took control of the game.
Seeing Boatwright's capabilities just shows how unlikely and incredible going 14-4 without him was.
"He defends and he plays like a guard at 6-foot-10, so it's hard to replace those guys. That's why the other players when he was out for 18 games, they deserve a lot of credit," Enfield said "Our young players developed quickly and were forced into roles that they probably didn't expect.
"Now that Bennie is back, I think the younger players like Jonah Mathews coming off the bench tonight -- scoring 18 points, playing great defense. He's been through a lot this season and he's able to do that now. You know how good De'Anthony [Melton] is playing. De'Anthony was great last game. The game before against Arizona State, Nick Rakocevic had 11 points and eight rebounds. We're getting great production off our bench. Shaqquan Aaron came off the bench against UCLA and had 23 points.
"It's great to have Bennie back, but the other players on the team have taken turns playing really well and helping us win."
Rallying from Slow Starts
For the second straight game, USC rallied from an early deficit for a comfortable victory just shy of double digits. The Trojans fell behind 14-3 before rallying for a 14-4 run to make it a one-point game. Unfortunately for the Trojans, they still have yet to find the proper warmup routine to get them going from the opening tip.
The Trojans never panic though. Thanks to a junior captain point guard and three-point shooters that can help them get back in the game quickly, USC has been able to battle back time and time again. Saturday night's win was the 10th time this season it has rallied from at least a nine-point deficit. Half of the Trojans' wins have been of the comeback variety.
"Our players just keep playing basketball," Enfield said. "We stress as a staff that there are a lot of runs during a game and the other team has theres and we'll have ours, but you have to keep playing. All season, we've been down and come back. It's a game of runs sometimes. They don't get too concerned as far as thinking they are going to lose the game. They just keep playing and sometimes have to play harder, but as a team they know that you are not out of a game even when you are down."
USC returns to the Galen Center on Thursday at 8 p.m. PST (Pac-12 Networks) to take on Oregon State before their marquee matchup with Oregon next Saturday. While the Beavers are only 4-20 and have yet to win a game in conference, USC can't overlook them. A loss to a team with such a woeful record would be an RPI killer and the Trojans follow that game with possibly the toughest three-game stretch on the West Coast facing Oregon, UCLA and Arizona. The Beavers just haven't been the same team since star Tres Tinkle broke his wrist early in the season. It was hoped he would be back the first time OSU played the Trojans, but his wrist has not healed and he was recently put in a hard cast.
Not a USCFootball.com member? Sign up now and you'll get a seven day FREE trial! Join the Peristyle Family and get all the great information from USC football practices, Trojan football and basketball games, access to the Peristyle and all of the premium recruiting updates on USCFootball.com! Become a member today!
Follow Shotgun on Twitter: @ShotgunSpr