Jake’s Takes: USC Rides Out 81-71 Win Over Washington State

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January 28, 2016 by Jacob Freedman

Thursday night marked a changing of the guard for USC. Or at least a shift in USC’s point guard oriented offense. As Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs combined to shoot 3-of-12 from the field, Katin Reinhardt and Nikola Jovanovic picked up the slack on offense. The Trojans never trailed in the second half, riding to an 81-71 win over Washington State Thursday night in front of a jam-packed Galen Center student section.

USC moves to 16-5 (5-3 in Pac-12) play, as Reinhardt led the Trojans with 18 points while Jovanovic pitched in 12 points and 7 rebounds. The freshmen also impressed, with Chimezie Metu going for 12 points and 6 rebounds while Bennie Boatwright shook off an 0-of-4 night on three pointers to notch 11 points. Check out what we learned.

Running Into The Half

The Cougars matched the Trojans’ fervent pace for the first 16 minutes of the game, but the Trojans used a 14-2 run to close the first half with an 11-point lead. Elijah Stewart hit an open three to kick things off, then the curtain opened on the Chimezie Metu show. The stringy freshman scooped up a missed Reinhardt jumper and crashed the glass to draw a foul and hit the ensuing free throws. On the next trip down, he helped to strip Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson on the baseline, then sprinted down the floor before slamming home a Julian Jacobs alley-oop in Metu’s usual thunderous style.

The 7-0 push over 78 seconds boosted USC’s lead to six, and a pair of layups from Jovanovic and Darion Clark helped push the lead to 11 by the end of the half against a Cougars squad that shot 53 percent in the opening 20 minutes.

“They’re not going to keep making these tough shots,” Reinhardt said about head coach Andy Enfield’s halftime message. The coach was right. The Cougars hit a bevy of contested shots both in the lane and from beyond the arc in the early going, but their slowing down in the second half prevented the Cougars from mounting a significant comeback effort. After a blistering opening half, Washington State shot at just a 36 percent clip in the second.

Fine-Hardt

Washington State’s Ike Iroegbu lit it up in the first half to the tune of 16 points, but Reinhardt’s sharpshooting was on point as well. He hit a pair of threes near the top of the key early, and had an aggressive layup push to convert a 3-point play later in the half. He finished with 13 points in the opening frame, even nailing a low-percentage turnaround jumper to boot.

Reinhardt kept it going early on the second half for five quick points, but Enfield’s leash on the guard proved short. After a pair of dicey attempts from deep hit iron, Enfield pulled the junior. Reinhardt missed two more threes in the final four minutes, finishing 0-of-4 from the field after hitting six of his first eight attempts. Still, it was a net positive night for Reinhardt after scoring just 17 points on USC’s 0-2 Oregon trip. “For me, it was just to be aggressive,” Reinhardt said about his showing. “I had a little shooting slump, so I had to come out and knock shots down.”

Katin Reinhardt and Nikola Jovanovic stepped up for the Trojans Thursday night.

Katin Reinhardt and Nikola Jovanovic stepped up for the Trojans Thursday night.

Slump City

It was a relatively comfortable win for the Trojans, but USC’s tendency to fall into a mid-second half slumber was on display again. After going up 70: 54 with 12:01 to go, the Trojans proceeded to go more than six and a half minutes without a point. Nothing summarized USC’s deep sleep more a sequence from Jacobs, the Pac-12 assist leader, who double dribbled and tossed a pass out of bounds on consecutive possessions.

The Cougars cut the deficit down to six before a McLaughlin three with 5:12 left ended Washington State’s 10-0 run, but the damage could have realistically been worse as the Cougars went just 3-of-8 on field goals during the slow stretch. After shooting a blistering 58.6 percent in the first frame, the Trojans went 10-of-29 (34.4 percent) in second half. “We missed some open shots and took some bad shots… our offense looked really pathetic,” Enfield said.

No Place Like Home

The Trojans moved to 12-0 at the Galen Center, as the once-dormant USC student section was electric and filled to capacity. For a program that’s seen more than it’s share of empty seats and low-energy home games in Enfield’s first two seasons, the Trojans’ winning ways are bearing fruit with the creation of a palpable home court advantage.

“It means a lot to us,” Reinhardt said about the improving crowds. “We have a young group of fans, and they’re loud and reckless… man, it’s fun.” Nikola Jovanovic also made sure to credit the home troops, saying the crowd was “like a sixth player.” Something might have been lost in translation for Jovanovic, but not lost was a new X-factor for the emerging Trojans.

Nifty Nikola

The 6-foot-10 Serbian has progressively shown more touch this season, and flashed his improvement again in notching a quiet 12 points and 7 rebounds on 6-of-10 shooting. With USC’s guards having a slow night, Jovanovic showed some initiative down low. He backed his way into the post before hitting a slick hook shot, and went chest-first into the glass for a nifty finger roll two minutes later. He slowed down for most of the second half after tossing his next shot into the side of the backboard, but picked up the slack along with Reinhardt in the early going.

More For Malik

When Bennie Boatwright picked up his first foul at five minutes and 44 seconds in, it was sophomore forward Malik Martin that was the first man off the bench instead of junior Darion Clark, the usual first big man substitution. Why? The diamond press according to Enfield, with Martin’s length allowing him to cover a bigger area in the post than Clark. “It has nothing to do with him [Clark],” Enfield said when asked about the change in rotation. “I’m not unhappy with Darion at all.”

Next Up

The Washington Huskies visit Galen for a noon tip-off on Saturday. You might remember USC’s first time around against Washington, where the Trojans squandered a 22-point second half lead to lose in Seattle. The Huskies knocked off UCLA in a 86-84 thriller in Pauley on Thursday, moving to a tie atop the Pac-12 at 6-2 (14-6 overall), and Saturday’s game will be a clash of the Pac-12’s two highest-scoring squads. “Washington is extremely athletic and likes to play at a fast pace like we do,” Enfield said. “It’ll be as challenging of a game as we’ve played.”

Reach Jacob Freedman here or follow him on Twitter

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