The Trojans entered Friday night's game at the Galen Center favored by 16.5 points by oddsmakers across the country, but things did not come easy for USC in its third game of the Andy Enfield era.
After allowing 40 points in the opening half of basketball, the defense came out firing to slow down the Lumberjacks' attack, which looked prime to pull the upset thanks to some sloppy USC basketball for most of the night.
"When we give effort, we can be a really good team," Enfield said.
Thanks in large part to a career-high 31-point effort from Byron Wesley, USC (2-1) barely came out on top 67-63 in what ended up being a thrilling game against Northern Arizona (1-2).
It was certainly not pretty offensively, especially from the charity stripe where USC shot 19-for-36 on the night, but D.J. Haley was able to secure the victory by sinking 1-of-2 free throws with 8.7 seconds left to play.
The offense could not find its wheels for most of the first half, after scoring 95 points against Cal State Northridge on Tuesday night, but were able to score easy baskets in transition to get back into the ballgame.
USC was not able to convert from behind the arc to punish the much smaller Lumberjacks' front line.
Going the entire first half without a three-point basket, the Trojans' leading scorer once again rectified the state of affairs by draining a deep shot at the top of the key to tie the game up with 12:22 in the second half.
The Lumberjacks went on a mini run of their own after only scoring four points in the first 12 minutes of the second half. But that being said, the Trojans' efforts on the defensive end of the floor ultimately held back NAU's comeback efforts.
QUICK TAKES FROM TROJANS FOUR-POINT VICTORY:
Byron Wesley Takes Center Stage
While the Trojans' offense was struggling to find any real continuity on the offensive side of the court, junior forward Byron Wesley put the offensive duties on his shoulders. He accounted for over half of USC's points in the first half alone, shooting a perfect 7-of-7 from the field before finishing the night 11--of-16 from the field.
"Never really scared," Wesley said of facing a 12-point deficit at one point. "We're in this position a lot where we come back. We knew we were capable of a comeback, it just came down to effort."
Wesley was assertive driving to the rack and has found some real confidence this year scoring the basketball after taking lots of time this offseason alone in the gym to work on his individual game.
"l feel like I can get to the rim whenever I want to," Wesley said about his emerging offensive game. "And I think Coach Enfield is finding out I am a pretty good scorer"
Rotation Yet To Solidify
It was the third game of the season and yet another starting lineup on the floor. With eight new players and no real groove yet on the offensive end of the floor, Enfield expects to see even more starting lineups moving forward.
Just to keep track, Pe'Shon Howard (who Enfield said really stepped up with four crucial assists), Nikola Jovanovic (9 points), Byron Wesley, Omar Oraby, along with freshman PG Julian Jacobs got the nod from Enfield on Friday Night.
Eleven players stepped on the floor for USC with all but Brendyn Taylor scoring at least one point on the night. "We don't have great shooters, we have streaky shooters," said Enfield. "We are gonna play deep rotations until we figure that out."
NEXT UP FOR THE TROJANS: HOME vs. Cal State Fullerton Tuesday Night (8 P.M.)