January 20, 2018 by Sam Dodge
Shaqquan Aaron driving against Oregon State. The Trojans swept the Beaver State for the first time since 2008. (Pac-12 Network)
There are nights on the road that seem destined for failure. Open shots clang off the rim. Officials get overly involved. A terrible offense hits highly-contested threes.
Despite all of these coming into play Saturday night, Andy Enfield deployed Jordan Usher at the four late in the second half. The freshman wing splashed four threes in the final eight minutes to pace USC to a 74-67 at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
The team improved to 15-6 overall and 6-2 in Pac-12 play.
Scoring 1.12 points a possession against the conference’s No. 2 defense, the Trojans started and finished on fire. They hit over 60 percent from the field in the first 10 minutes and last five minutes.
Elijah Stewart set the early tone, hitting three first-half treys. Before tonight, when he’s made over two from deep, the offense scored over 80 points each time.
He finished with 18 points, while Jordan Usher scored 12 of his 14 points in the aforementioned final stretch.
USC outpaced Oregon State in the first 10 minutes, leading 18-10 at the second media break behind great ball movement.
The officials became their worst enemy after that, as Oregon State finished the first half 13 of 14 from the charity stripe.
Jordan McLaughlin hit USC’s only two first-half attempts with a second left to push USC ahead at halftime 35-33.
Right before that, with USC leading 33-29, Nick Rakocevic received a shooting foul on a light reach-in, and a mild complaint from Andy Enfield cost him a technical. Four straight free throws tied it, and that tone kept a slower Beavers team in it.
— Shotgun Spratling (@ShotgunSpr) January 21, 2018
They seized on the opportunity, feeding 6-foot-8 forward Tres Tinkle inside to stretch the lead to 45-37 with 13:20 to go.
Metu and Boatwright, the catalysts behind Thursday night’s wire-to-wire triumph in Eugene, couldn’t handle him. The sophomore forward, and son of Beavers head coach Wayne Tinkle, elbowed his way to 21 points on 16 shots.
While they overcame it tonight, the struggles against physical big men, from Washington’s Noah Dickerson to Stanford’s Reid Travis to tonight, look to plague the defense going forward.
Travis returns to Galen Center on Wednesday, and Enfield and company visit 7-foot-1 Deandre Ayton and Arizona the following week.
Things looked bleak in the second half after an ugly 11-minute stretch where the Trojans connected on only one field goal. Boatwright, Metu and company all found themselves open, but the rims simply were not friendly in an environment former head coach Kevin O’Neill called, “dingy.”
Once Enfield deployed his small-ball look with Usher, he saw immediate results.
Usher first connected on an open three off a Jonah Matthews drive and kick. Next, he curled off the right corner and drained another to seize the lead back 55-54.
Two possessions later, Elijah Stewart found him again to up the lead to four. Jordan McLaughlin took things from there.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) January 21, 2018
The senior point guard drove the lane twice, both off masculine screens from Metu, convert two layups and stretch the lead to 63-54 with four minutes to go.
McLaughlin ended the game three of six with 12 points, and assisted on six shots. He still leads the conference and remains No. 5 nationally in the category.
The Trojans converted their free throws from there, and emerged with a sweep of the Beaver State for the first time since 2008.
While defensive concerns persist against bullies on the interior, tonight should be celebrated. The Trojans sustained the Beavers’ best punch, trailed for a large stretch of the second half, and responded just in time to gut out the win.
Wayne Tinkle’s team is no slouch, besting UCLA last Thursday and pushing both Arizona teams the week before. With the Bruins barely in the field entering the week, and USC just out of it, expect those teams to swap places after tonight.
Here’s another question to start asking. Should Andy Enfield, with all the early injuries and the De’Anthony Melton suspension, be awarded conference Coach of the Year if the winning streak continues?
Surely, Jerod Haase and Mike Hopkins will have something to say about that. Stanford and Washington are tough outs after downright awful 2017 campaigns.
However, Enfield has steered this team from well off the bubble to on the right side of it in only a few weeks. Just keep on eye on this.
In just four days, USC gets a chance to avenge the miracle loss to Stanford.
While the manful Reid Travis is on the horizon, this Trojan team is slowly forming into that preseason top-10 outfit.