December 15, 2013 by Jacob Freedman
By Jacob Freedman
Of USC’s six home wins so far, this one was the runt of the litter. The Trojans didn’t take the lead for good in the second half until 1:02 remaining, and looked unmotivated on defense and unaware of the ball at times on offense. USC defeated Bakersfield 63-59.
Baffled On The Boards
The Trojans looked like a bunch of sitting ducks in the opening half when it came to defensive rebounding. The Roadrunners had two air balls that they quickly rebounded, while the Trojans not only mistimed their box-outs, but sometimes didn’t box out at all. The Roadrunners had 17 offensive rebounds, leading to 15 second-chance points. CSUB had 12 offensive rebounds in the first half, while USC had 12 defensive boards, meaning USC lost the rebound on defense half of the time. Against CSUB, poor rebounding makes things closer than they need to be. Against most Pac-12 opponents, it means a hefty halftime deficit.
Should USC have ever been in a dogfight with Bakersfield? Probably not. Did they still show resolve to avoid a catastrophe? Yes. Chief among that resolve was the actions and words of Byron Wesley, who had 19 second-half points after netting just a free throw and no rebounds in the opening half.
“I just wasn’t playing hard from the start,” he said. “I had no rebounds. It just started, and I had no skills and wasn’t getting my teammates involved. I feel like I played really poor and let my team down.”
Wesley is a quiet personality that leads by example, but he showed leadership in both his accountability for his play and pride, not disappointment, in earning a hard-fought win. “The guys on this team just find ways to win. It was a real ugly game, we grinded it out, and I’m extremely happy with our team.” You want your leader to ride the highs and defend the lows. Wesley did that on Sunday.
With USC down five with eight minutes to go, Julian Jacobs found himself open and heading upcourt after a quick pass from Roschon Prince. Skying towards the rim, the freshman guard put the ball in his right hand and soared for a soul-crushing, one-handed tomahawk slam. Except it clanked off iron and flew out of bounds. The crowd booed, one USC assistant had his head in his hands, and Enfield furiously called a timeout and yanked Jacobs out of the game.
“He’s a typical confident freshman,” Enfield said. “You’re down five and you’re struggling…trying to do a one-hand tomahawk was not the smartest thing.” There are times for flash, and Jacobs was trying to set off the crowd with a momentum-swinging play, but down five to an athletically inferior team was not the right time to do it. “He might not be allowed to dunk anymore,” joked Byron Wesley. Freshmen will be freshmen.
After Pe’Shon Howard hit a three less than five minutes into the game, the Trojans didn’t hit another shot outside of the paint. They finished 1-of-7 beyond the three-point line. The loss of sharpshooter J.T. Terrell really stings in these kind of games, as Bakersfield doubled Oraby and cut off USC in the middle of the paint.
USC’s academic semesters ends on Wednesday. USC’s next game is on Thursday, at Long Beach State. Andy Enfield said “possibly” when asked if Terrell could be eligible by later this week, then reiterated that USC’s leading returning scorer is “questionable” for Thursday’s trip down the freeway. USC has lacked a scoring punch that Terrell provides in a couple of games, tonight especially, and the possibility of Terrell’s return should be anticipated for the sake of being competitive once Pac-12 play starts. The semester ends Wednesday, but also note that grades that can take a couple of days to officially come in.
-Enfield mentioned final exams as a reason for coming out slow tonight. A lot of players missed practice to study and work with tutors the past week, and Enfield saw the difference. “This was a terrible week for practice. We didn’t have the continuity we normally have,” he said.
-USC set a season high in free throw attempts with 46. Wesley went 12-of-14, but USC made just 30 of those 46 for a 65.2 percent clip. Chass Bryan went 1-of-6 and Roschon Prince went 2-of-6. A career 42.3 percent shooter from the line, big man D.J. Haley hit 3 of 4 late despite a cringeworthy shooting stroke that saw the ball arc in the air before hitting the back iron of the rim. “Because we missed so many, some of them have to go in eventually,” Enfield said on Haley’s makes.
-Nikola Jovanovic had a career-high 10 rebounds and his first career double-double with 14 points. Ten of those points came in the second half.
-For the second straight game, Strahinja Gavrilovic didn’t play. The lanky forward started USC’s opener, but hasn’t played more than 11 minutes since. As his Serbian countryman has emerged as a reliable post scorer, it looks like Gavrilovic might be the odd man out among a big man rotation of Jovanovic, Oraby, Haley and Prince.
-This was the second time this season that USC held an opponent to under 60 points.