JT Terrell slams home an alley oop from Byron Wesley. - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Strong free throw shooting helped USC (11-13, 6-5) hold off Washington's (13-11, 5-6) second-half rally Sunday night at the Galen Center. JT Terrell had a game-high 18 points while seven Trojans scored six or more points.
-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment(s): Big minutes from the little man. With 15:52 remaining in the game, Jio Fontan picked up his third foul in a three-minute span. The foul, Fontan's fourth, forced USC interim head coach Bob Cantu to go to walk-on freshman reserve Chass Bryan earlier than normal.
With Washington battling back from a 19-point deficit, Bryan was charged with holding off the Huskies' rally for nearly 10 minutes while Fontan sat. There was no fear in the backup point guard.
"I've already played in some of the biggest game," Bryan said, "so comfort is not an issue. I was just happy to get my go at it."
Washington was able to trim the lead down to six points, but the Trojans rallied back. Bryan capped his 9+ minute stint with a pair of 3-pointers that put USC back up by double digits when Fontan returned with 6:23 remaining.
"Chass came in and played with a lot of poise," Cantu said. "Those minutes Chass gave us were so big and so important. He handled their pressure. He didn't turn it over and he made shots."
Bryan gets up extra shots before games, after practices and even in the middle of the night, he said. His three-point shot is a low, line drive that never gets much higher than the rim, but Bryan's form has really been cleaned up since the beginning of the season and the results materialized on Sunday.
"That's what people say is the one weakness of my game, so I just work at it every day," Bryan said.
Because of his height at 5'9", he has to have an open look, but when he has the opportunity, he now has the confidence to knock it down.
Player of the game: JT Terrell. You can tell JT Terrell likes it when the crowd is involved. You can see him feed off the energy and watch as he tries to pump up the crowd to get loud and rowdy.
He gave the crowd plenty to get loud and rowdy about Sunday night. Terrell had a game-high 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including going 4 for 7 from downtown. He also had two rebounds and two assists with only one turnover.
While his shot selection is always a concern, Terrell has really seemed to find a rhythm in Cantu's offense. He's been shooting almost everything within the expanded confines of the offense and he's making the majority of those shots, including some big momentum baskets Sunday night.
"We're just playing with no leash, really no limits, Terrell said. "We're holding ourselves accountable and holding each other accountable."
Most Spectacular Play: Alley oop followed by a dagger. Two of those momentum baskets came with USC up 30-16, Washington's Andrew Andrews tried to drive to the right side of the hoop, but when he went up to shoot over Aaron Fuller, Fuller ripped the ball away. He turned and fired the ball upcourt to Byron Wesley.
Wesley stayed wide, driving up the left side of the floor. He took one dribble inside the three-point line before tossing up a line-drive pass just over the rim. Coming from the opposite side of the floor, Terrell leaped, caught the ball and slammed home the alley oop.
After Fontan stole the ball from Huskies' point guard Abdul Gaddy late in the shot clock, the Trojans pushed out on the break and Fontan found Terrell on the right wing. Terrell sank the transition 3-pointer without touching the rim, bringing the Galen Center fans to their feet and forcing Lorenzo Romar to call a timeout with USC holding its largest lead of the game at 35-16.
Unsung Hero: Omar Oraby. With USC playing smaller front lines recently, Omar Oraby's minutes have dwindled. But with USC playing against a team with a true center and a true power forward, the 7-foot-2 big man got an opportunity to shine in the first half.
In 10 first-half minutes, Oraby scored nine points, making four of the five shots he attempted. Working against 7-foot-1 Aziz N'Diaye, Oraby battled down low, showcasing high toughness banging with N'Diaye, but also showed a deft touch knocking down a pair of fading jumpers as soon as he checked in. Oraby also did something that he and fellow center Dewayne Dedmon have failed to do at times, setting solid screens for Fontan that ultimately led to easy baskets when Fontan was able to wrap passes around the double team.
"Step It Up:" Be a shooter. One of Ari Stewart's roles off the bench is to be able to knock down open 3-pointers. The 6-foot-7 swingman seems to have lost his confidence though. Washington went to a 2-3 zone defense to try to slow down USC's offense in the first half.
Instead of catching the ball ready to shoot, Stewart was often looking to pass the ball immediately. With a hesitant approach, Stewart's shot attempts were predictably off the mark. He missed all four of his attempts (all 3-pointers) before leaving the game with a sprained left wrist.
Key stat: 14 for 15. Suddenly, USC is a great free throw shooting team. During the Trojans' three-game winning streak, they are shooting 83.7 percent, making 41 of 49 attempts. Cantu said the team has been shooting a lot more free throws in practice, including "pressure free throws" between individual segments. Whatever he's doing...it's working.
Against Washington, USC made 14 of 15 while the Huskies made only 4 of 14. Even more impressive has been the Trojans ability to make the clutch free throws. Late in the game, USC pushed a six-point lead to double-digits with strong defense and quality free throw shooting. In the final 3:48, the Trojans made eight of nine free throws.
Quote of the Night: USC guard JT Terrell:
"To have fans in it is a big difference when it's a close, tight game at the end. A lot of people can't play in that type of environment when everyone in the gym is against you."
Sideline Strategy: Bob Cantu had a big decision to make in the second half. When exactly should he bring Fontan back in the game with four fouls? For the second time in as many weeks, Cantu gambled and put Fontan in around the six-minute mark. For the second time in as many weeks, the gamble paid off. Bryan played great with Fontan out and then Fontan avoided picking up his fifth foul and the Trojans were able to pull out the victory.
With Washington featuring a true center and true power forward, USC had a different matchup than has been the case recently against teams like Washington State and UCLA. Cantu elected to give minutes to his third 7-footer, James Blasczyk, rather than using Aaron Fuller as much as he has in recent weeks. In his limited time, Fuller scored four points and had a steal in six minutes. Blasczyk, on the other hand, played an ineffectual five minutes grabbing an offensive rebound, but missing the putback.
Where They Stand: Somehow a team that was once thought dead is now only two games back in the Pac-12 conference standings. The Trojans are above .500 in conference play for the first time and are sitting tied for fifth place in the standings. With games at Stanford and Cal this week, the Trojans can either put themselves in position to potentially earn a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament or they slide to the bottom of the muck that is the 5-9 spots.
Cantu is also above .500 this season. He'll get another shot at his first road win outside of Los Angeles Thursday night at 8 p.m. (PST) when USC travels to Stanford's Maples Pavilion where the Cardinal are 10-2 this season.