Last night the Trojans went surfing on the Pepperdine Waves, winning a tight 7-point match, 91-84.
Freshman forward “Big O” (Onyeka Okongwu) opened up for the Trojans with a two-pointer in the first 13 seconds of the game to give the Trojans a head start. He was closely followed by senior guard Jonah Matthews adding another two-pointer to pump up the team.
Matthews and senior center Nick Rakocevic led the Trojans in more ways than one at the start of the game. The men had been awarded the honor of USC’s 41st and 42nd players to reach 1,000 career points.
However, it wasn’t long until the Trojans were overtaken. USC seemed to be having a difficult time against Pepperdine junior guard Colbey Ross, who scored 38 points on 13-20 shooting. Pepperdine was a powerhouse around the perimeter and pressed at every opportunity, recording 22 total fouls.
Pepperdine was able to give USC problems around the paint; the Waves recorded nine offensive rebounds on the night, creating multiple second-chance opportunities.
Pepperdine’s fast-paced offense led to multiple scoring runs; the Trojans remained down until four minutes and ten seconds were left in the 1st half. USC’s late first-half run put the Trojans at a 7-point halftime lead after trailing by 10 points earlier in the half.
USC turned to Okongwu often on the night; he was able to record 21 free-throw attempts. Head coach Andy Enfield said after the game: "It's hard to guard Onyeka. The only thing you can do is foul him if he gets deep in the paint."
In the second half, the Trojans shook off its first-half struggles and used their height and the Waves’ foul troubles to their advantage. USC stopped multiple Pepperdine scoring runs while also capitalizing from the line, shooting free-throws at an 82.4% clip. USC’s strong free-throw shooting percentage allowed the Trojans to maintain a ten-point lead during most of the game.
Star freshman forward Isaiah Mobley had a slow start in the first half. However, he seemed to be powered up in the second half when joined by his younger brother, No. 1 recruit, and future teammate, Evan Mobley in the stands.
Another notable moment was when Rakocevic made the first 3-pointer of his career at USC in the second half of the game.
The game remained close through the final minutes. Pepperdine went on a scoring run to bring the game within three points with just over two minutes left in the game. The Waves looked towards Ross, who made multiple tightly contested shots to give the Waves a chance to upset the Trojans. However, a late run, led by Okongwu, allowed USC to seal the game.
A big proponent to winning was “Big O”, who led USC with 33 points. Okongwu was not fazed by his role as a team leader. "I don't really believe in pressure. I believe in a good work ethic. The rest will take care of itself," Okongwu said.
When asked about the team, Mobley and Okongwu expressed their excitement to play with each other rather than against each other. Okongwu also commented on the return of USC football receiver Drake London to the court. "We're excited to have Drake London once he's done with football for the season,” Okongwu said.
USC has a 5-0 record for the first time since the team started the 2016 season with a 14-0 record. USC will next face a formidable opponent in Temple, who is currently a perfect 3-0 on the season. The game will tip-off at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Galen Center.