Nikola Jovanovic

Associated Press

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

2 Comments

With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.

Career nights for three freshmen a step forward for USC

Leave a comment

Based upon the program Andy Enfield inherited when it signed on to become the new head coach at USC, the general expectation was that the Trojans would take their lumps as they transition to the fast-paced style that resulted in FGCU reaching the Sweet 16. And that may very well be the case as the season wears on, with the Trojans part of a much-improved Pac-12.

But on Sunday night USC (6-3) outclassed a struggling Boston College (3-6) squad by the final score of 78-62, and the outcome may have provided a glimpse into what’s to come at the Galen Center.

Of the five players to score in double figures three were freshmen who all established new season-highs in points: guard Julian Jacobs (16 points, eight rebounds) and forwards Nikola Jovanovic (15 points, seven rebounds) and Roschon Prince (14 points, five rebounds). As a team USC shot 46.6% from the field while limiting the Eagles to 37.3% shooting. USC controlled the glass (44-27 edge; offensive rebounding percentage of 40.6%) as well, and their 1.16 points per possession is the second-highest figure of the season in that category.

While part of this can be attributed to playing a team in Boston College that’s in serious trouble (they begin ACC play against Maryland on Thursday night), USC certainly deserves credit for this performance. They were assertive for much of the night, showing signs of progress in their quest to play the style that Enfield prefers. Veterans such as Pe’Shon Howard and Byron Wesley will be key figures as well, but their impact on the future of USC basketball won’t be as great as the freshmen and that’s what makes a game like this so important.

Of the three newcomers listed above Jovanovic entered Sunday as the high scorer, averaging 7.8 points per contest with Jacobs (4.9 apg, 4.6 rpg) being the leader in both assists and rebounds. An outing like tonight’s can only help the trio going forward, and next season they’ll be asked to lead the way. Of course additions like Jordan McLaughlin, Jabari Craig, Malik Price-Martin and transfers Darion Clark and Katin Reinhardt will be available, but the presence of players who not only know what Enfield wants but also how to carry over those lessons into game action is important.

Beating a struggling Boston College team may not move the needle much, but the way in which their freshmen played is an important step in the right direction for USC.