It wasn't a pretty win by any measure. Star junior guard Byron Wesley said as much after the game. But the USC Trojans battled back from a late deficit to pick up a 63-59 win over Bakersfield Sunday night at the Galen Center.
"The guys on this team just find ways to win," Wesley said. "It was a real ugly game. We grinded one out, so I'm extremely happy with my team."
The Trojans fell behind by six early in the second half when Bakersfield went on a 10-0 run that prompted USC head coach Andy Enfield to call a timeout. The Trojans responded with a 10-4 run to even the game, but they couldn't find a way to pull ahead.
Bakersfield maintained a 2-4 point advantage until the final three minutes of the game when USC locked down on defense and the Roadrunners went cold.
"Our players showed a lot of heart down the stretch," Enfield said. "We had to get defensive stops and they picked themselves up and they did that."
With 2:45 remaining Issiah Grayson hit a tough floater in the lane to put Bakersfield ahead 58-54. Neither team made another field goal, but the Trojans attacked the rim, as they did throughout the second half, and got to the free throw line.
The next eight points came on free throws from Wesley and D.J. Haley as USC took a 62-58 lead. Grayson went to the line with 25.2 seconds remaining and made the first but missed the second. When Julian Jacobs grabbed his miss, it looked like the Trojans would play keepaway until they were fouled, but Pe'Shon Howard turned the ball over for the seventh time, giving Bakersfield one last opportunity.
Redshirt senior Stefon Johnson got an open look at a game-tying 3-pointer from the right wing. The shot clanked off the back rim and fell into Omar Oraby's hands, who put the finishing touches on the game with a free throw.
"It was a very tough game tonight obviously. Bakersfield played an excellent basketball game and we did not," Enfield said. "Our guard play was very inconsistent. We were just fortunate to win a game."
Wesley and Grayson dueled throughout the second half despite neither doing much in the first 20 minutes of the game. Wesley scored 19 of his game-high 20 points and Grayson scored the final 14 of his 17 points in the second half.
Freshman Nikola Jovanovic recorded his first double-double of his career with 14 points (5-of-8 shooting) and 10 rebounds.
The first half was a sluggish affair that ended tied 28-28. Despite holding Bakersfield to 31 percent shooting, the Trojans couldn't take a lead. The Roadrunners were only 11-for-35, but grabbed 12 offensive rebounds, including three "team" rebounds, meaning the ball went out of bounds off USC
Bigs Roschon Prince, Haley and Oraby each were 2-for-2 from the field in the first half while the rest of the team struggled, shooting only 2-for-12.
It was a common theme for the entire night as USC made only one shot outside of the paint -- a first half 3-pointer from Howard.
The win keeps the Trojans' home record unblemished as they improve to 6-0. USC will be back in action on Thursday when it travels down Interstate-405 to Long Beach State for a 7:30 p.m. matchup.