Okongwu led the Trojans with 20 points in Friday night’s game, despite only playing 21 minutes due to foul trouble. The only thing that could stop freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu was his own aggressiveness. Otherwise, University of Portland’s defense had no answer for the dominant interior presence. He also added ten rebounds — five of them on the offensive end, which makes three double-doubles in his first three collegiate games.
“He’s constantly within the offense,” said head coach Andy Enfield. “He’s ball-screening, rolling to the rim, posting up, he’s going for the offensive glass and running the floor. He plays a really important position for us and he’s doing it really well.”
Okongwu’s contributions led USC to a 76-65 win against a feisty Pilots team that kept the matchup competitive, despite being massive underdogs coming into the game.
“Portland played terrific basketball,” said Enfield. “They’re very tough to guard and their offense really spread us out.”
Graduate guard Isaiah White led the Pilots with 22 points, making six of his 10ten three-point attempts. Off the bench, 5-foot-7 guard Chase Adams showcased impressive playmaking and pesky defense, finishing with six assists and four steals.
While the Trojans shot 50 percent from the field and the three-point line, the offense also kept Portland in the game with 20 turnovers.
“We made some really uncharacteristic passes and poor decisions...we just have to do a better job. We can’t turn the ball over 20 times and expect to win the game,” said Enfield.
After a sluggish start in their previous game, USC went on a 7-0 run to start the game, and led 14-6 after five minutes of action. Okongwu dropped six early points, with two baskets in transition off nifty passes by sophomore guard Elijah Weaver and senior forward Nick Rakocevic.
Despite the fast start, the Trojans only carried a six point advantage going into halftime. After picking up his second foul at the 10-minute mark, Okongwu sat for the rest of the first period, having only played seven minutes.
USC’s offense continued to turn the ball over to start the second half, and Portland briefly tied the game at 48. From that point, the Trojans went on a 15-4 run to secure the game. Coach Enfield lauded his defense for turning the game in USC’s favor.:
“We had to get some stops and we finally did. We went small--we had four guards and matched their four guards,.” said Enfield. “I thought we did a really good job of executing offensively to set ball-screens, space the floor, get back-cuts and back-action threes, and we had some transition easy baskets.”
Outside of Okongwu, the Trojans had a balanced offensive attack. Rakocevic dropped 11 points and collected eight rebounds. The starting backcourt of Weaver and senior Jonah Mathews put up 12 points apiece. Freshman guard Ethan Anderson was moved to the bench after starting his last game, but played comparable minutes to the starters, making Enfield’s finishing lineup over Weaver. His on-court tenacity and playmaking was on full display, dishing out 10 assists and drawing praise from Mathews:
“The way he reads ball screens as a freshman is just different,.” said Mathews. “The way he plays hard every possession and doesn’t take anything off...he just plays a complete game.”
After only three games, Okongwu has clearly established himself as the centerpiece of the team. Even as a five-star recruit, he’s exceeded expectations on both ends of the floor. Okongwu and the Trojans will look to dominate South Dakota State in USC’s next game, Tuesday night in the Galen Center.