USC’s Underclassmen Lead the Way in Important Win over SMU

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November 25, 2016 by Max Meyer

Shaqquan Aaron shooting a free throw vs. SMU (Max Meyer/Galen Central)

Shaqquan Aaron shooting a free throw vs. SMU (Max Meyer/Galen Central)

By Max Meyer

For the second consecutive season, USC has started off 5-0.

The Trojans defeated SMU 78-73 Friday at Galen Center in a game which featured a back-and-forth second half. After a sluggish shooting start for both teams, the Trojans and Mustangs combined for 96 points in the final 20 minutes.

USC trailed by five with 16:54 left in the game, but a few underclassmen stepped up down the stretch. Additionally, the Trojans were able to keep SMU’s strong offensive attack in check.

“Defensive we were getting stops using our length. We switched defenses, and we got out and pushed the ball,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Our defense has been excellent all year… They made some tough shots and give them credit. But I thought that was the key in the second half.”

One Thing I Liked: Buh-Buh-Buh Bennie and the Net!

Bennie Boatwright shot five of 24 from the field (including 2-15 from beyond the arc) in his first two games back after his injury, so it must have been a relief for him to drain his first three to get off on the right foot.

Boatwright finished the game as USC’s leading scorer, scoring 17 points and drilling four of his seven three-point attempts. Nine of his points came in the second half, including a big three after SMU cut a double-digit lead to just six points.

“Bennie can shoot at a high level and he can also put the ball on the floor,” Enfield said. “He plays well in our system. We needed him to just relax and play. Down the stretch, we called a lot of plays for him and he delivered.”

When Boatwright makes shots, it causes extra attention from the opposing defense, which creates open shots for other Trojans. It wasn’t a coincidence that USC made 12 of its 24 attempts from beyond the arc and shot 49.1 percent from the field.

“I’ve been trying to get my rhythm back. My flow within the offense is picking up and my teammates are making good passes to me,” Boatwright said. “[In the first two games] I definitely was pressing. Everything was off.”

Boatwright’s big game didn’t just come on offense either. The sophomore forward was assigned the task of defending SMU’s leading scorer, Semi Ojeleye. Ojeleye came into Friday averaging 20.6 points per game, but was held to 13.

“I tried to pressure [Ojeleye] because I know he’s been a great scorer,” Boatwright said. “Every time he got it, I was down low in the stance and I knew my teammates had my best. I was just trying to defend him as best I can.”

With Chimezie Metu suffering from foul trouble for the first time in five contests, it was especially integral that Boatwright play his biggest game thus far this season. And he did just that.

Another Thing I Liked: The Fantastic Freshmen

De’Anthony Melton’s name has popped up a lot in these recaps recently, and for good reason. It’s been a long time since a freshman has had such of an impact this early on for the Trojans.

Fellow first-year player Jonah Mathews also had a great game. Melton and Mathews (How about M&M for short in the future?) each had career-highs in points against SMU, posting 15 and 14 respectively.

Melton’s three threes also were his best mark in his USC career, and added five assists and six boards. In a game where USC struggled from the charity stripe, Mathews made seven of his 10 free-throw attempts (the rest of the team was 7-16), including a few big ones down the stretch. M&M scored 16 of the team’s first 28 points in the second half, and helped build a lead that the Trojans would not surrender for the remainder of the game.

“We always thought they were good players,” Enfield said about his freshmen. “We didn’t necessarily think they’d be playing this many minutes based on our personnel who we thought we might have coming into the season. Credit to those two, they wanted to come here and make a difference, and they are.”

Melton’s lockdown defense has been a key reason for USC’s improved defense. SMU shot 41.5 percent from the field, the first time all year an opponent has shot better than 40 percent in that metric against the Trojans. While other Pac-12 freshmen like Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball have excited the college basketball nation, Melton’s solid all-around play has made him one of USC’s most important players already.

“It’s nice to see all the hard work paying off,” Melton said. “I didn’t care about playing time [coming in], I just wanted to learn.”

The freshmen have already taken advantage of their increased roles due to the amount of players that left USC’s program this past offseason. Yet, the team was expecting this strong level of play from their youngest guys.

“I’m not surprised by our freshmen. Once they came in, they listened,” Boatwright said. “The freshmen are not afraid of anything.”

Quick Hits:

1. SMU didn’t score a single point on fast breaks, which is impressive considering USC committed 14 turnovers. Give major props to USC’s transition defense for SMU’s inability to get easy shots.

“Their length bothered us tonight,” Enfield said. “They had a lot of steals. But we were able to get back on defense.”

2. Should USC have shot free throws from further back? The Trojans made 50 percent of their three-point shots (12-24), while only shooting 53.8 percent (14-26) from the free-throw line. To be fair, though, the Trojans came into this game shooting 73 percent from the charity stripe.

3. USC was outrebounded for the first time all season (SMU had the 39-35 advantage). Given Metu’s foul trouble and the fact that the Mustangs were averaging 15 more boards per game than their opponents coming in, USC’s play on the glass was not the end of the world.

SMU also had a 38 to 24 edge on points in the paint. USC’s lights-out shooting from deep, however, more than cancelled that one out.

4. In their next game, the Trojans will take on UC Santa Barbara this Sunday at 7 PM from the Galen Center.

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One thought on “USC’s Underclassmen Lead the Way in Important Win over SMU

  1. […] The bracket will look familiar, with the Trojans once again opening up against the Providence Friars (if you somehow forgot about last year’s debacle, read Evan Budrovich’s excellent recap). If the Trojans win against the Friars, they will play SMU, who they defeated in November. […]

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