By Ken Cross
USC’s Trojans turned the table on the Providence Friars in the second half in Wednesday night’s final First Four game in Dayton, Ohio. The Friars were sizzling from behind the three-point arc in the first half as they made 8-of-14, five by guard Jalen Lindsey, to take a 41-26 lead at the half.
The script flipped immeasurably in the second half as USC trailed 46-27 at the outset, but Nick Rakocevic and Chimezie Metu stepped up beside of Jordan McLaughlin and Bennie Boatwright as the Trojans grabbed a 61-60 lead with 6:48 remaining on Metu’s jumper and never looked back.
“We started switching one through four,” said Trojan coach Andy Enfield, “Then went big. It’s the first time this year we put Boatwright at the three because Nick, who was just sitting here, was playing so well, and our guards were struggling a little bit shooting the basketball.”
So we put Bennie at 3 at 6’10”, a small forward, and we put Chimezie at the power forward, and Nick at center. And we played big for at least 10, 12 minutes of the game. We haven’t done it all season. For our players to adjust to that, that was impressive. That was impressive.
Troy belonged all along
Ridiculously, and with lots of east coast bias, many questioned whether the Trojans should have been in the tournament. The 40-16 stretch after trailing the Friars, 46-27 with around 17 minutes to play, the Southern California Trojans showed what most of us knew – that this team has moxy and resilience and wouldn’t go down with out a fight.
“That we could compete anyway,” said USC guard Jordan McLaughlin, who finished with 18 points and 10 assists, “We knew that all year. Our coaches, they have confidence in us, we have confidence in ourselves. And we know when we’re playing like we did the second half that we’re able to compete with anybody. And it’s just a matter of us just bringing the energy and knocking down shots and just competing all the way to the end.”
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) March 16, 2017
This was a rematch of last season’s NCAA Tournament opener in Raleigh where the Trojans blew a double-digit lead due to missed free throws as Providence’s Rodney Bullock made a lay up with one second left for a 70-69 Providence win.
“We gotta give them a lot of credit,” said USC’s Bennie Boatwright, who led all scorers with 24 points, “We went out there and played hard and played together. And it does feel good getting payback from last year, because that was a tough loss. So we came out with a ‘W’ and we played a great team.”