USC staves off late surge to defeat BYU

Boogie Ellis matched his career-high 27 points for the Trojans to advance to the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals.

[A photo of Joshua Morgan and Drew Peterson laughing mid-game at Galen Center.]

Late into the second half, the USC men’s basketball team appeared completely in control of the ball game. The Trojans had a lead as large as 18 points with four and a half minutes to go, and seemed to be cruising to a convincing win over the BYU Cougars.

Aided by some USC turnovers down the stretch, BYU gave USC a run for its money in the game’s final minutes. However, the Trojan lead was too large for the Cougars to overcome and USC hung on for an 82-76 win in the quarterfinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in The Bahamas.

The Trojans, who were doing a decent job protecting the basketball for the overwhelming majority of the game, turned the ball over five times in the game’s final three minutes. BYU had switched into a press defense that USC struggled to counter, leading to a 10-second violation. Coupled with a few bad passes in the backcourt that gave the Cougars extra possessions, BYU whittled the lead down to single digits.

BYU was not efficient enough on their extra chances however, and never cut the lead to anything less than seven until hitting a meaningless three-pointer as time expired.

“Towards the end, it’s just a few mistakes we have to clean up,” fifth-year guard Drew Peterson said after the game. “We’re working on taking care of the ball and making the quick decisions, including myself. I can’t turn the ball over down the stretch like that. We were fortunate to have a big lead because we executed real well on both ends.”

BYU’s four triples in the final three minutes were enough to concern head coach Andy Enfield about how the Trojans finish games.

“When we have a lead, we need to play like it’s a tie game or we’re down,” Enfield said. “Our sense of urgency to the three-point shooters was not as great as it was in the first 36 minutes.”

To build such a dominant lead, the Trojans relied on one of their best team offensive performances of the season, as four of their five starters scored in double figures.

Leading the charge for USC was senior guard Boogie Ellis, who matched his career-best 27 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor. Much of Ellis’ success in this game came by getting to the line; he made 13 free throws on 17 attempts, the most makes and attempts of his career.

When asked what led to such a strong night offensively, Ellis said, “Staying locked in, knowing that I was going to make shots and staying confident.”

Peterson and redshirt junior forward Joshua Morgan each recorded their second double-double of the season. Morgan recorded 11 points and 10 rebounds, and was the Trojans’ top force in the paint all night. Peterson had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, while only turning the ball over once.

“[Morgan] has been battling illness, so he played terrific basketball,” Enfield said. “He’s our best shot blocker and defender in the interior…Our two centers today did an outstanding job of outplaying their bigs in the paint.”

Sophomore guard Reese Dixon-Waters also had a strong performance, scoring nine of his season-high 13 points in the second half. Dixon-Waters, like many of his teammates, thrived from mid-range. The Trojans shot over 60% on two point shots and that efficiency was key, as the team was 2-of-10 from three and only attempted two triples in the second half.

USC’s zone defense kept the Cougars at bay for much of the second half. While the Trojans were on a 19-7 run to start the second half, BYU missed 11 of its first 16 shots coming out of the break after shooting over 45% from the floor in the first half. The Cougars had a better three-point shooting night than their opponents, making 12 in the game, but a bevy of turnovers kept USC in front consistently.

BYU turned the ball over seventeen times in this game, including 11 in the first half, gifting the Trojans 17 points of offense. Those giveaways were not all unforced errors, as USC recorded eight steals throughout the night. While the Trojans gave the ball away a lot late in the game, they were taking it away much more than turning it over for the bulk of the contest.

USC’s fourth consecutive win moves its record to 4-1 on the season. The Trojans will advance to the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Thursday morning, where they will face either the Tennessee Volunteers or the Butler Bulldogs.