-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment(s): Answering a Run. With 15:39 remaining, USC head coach Andy Enfield called a timeout. He had to do something to quell a 10-0 Bakersfield run that featured eight Issiah Grayson points and a Grayson dish for a layup. Whatever he said in the team huddle worked because the Trojans responded with a 10-4 run of their own to even the score back up. Basketball can often be a game of runs. When the opposition puts together a quick streak, the best thing a team can do is respond with its own and that's what USC showed it could do early in the second half.
Getting Stops. After USC's 10-4 run, Bakersfield retook the lead and held a steady 2-6 point lead all the way until the final 2:25. Grayson made a basket in the lane with 2:45 remaining to put the Roadrunners up 58-54. It was the last field goal they made as USC's defense clutched up and got big stops down the stretch. Though USC didn't have a field goal in the final 3:30, it made 9-of-12 free throws down the stretch to end the game on a 9-1 run and come away with the victory.
Player of the game: Byron Wesley. In the first half, Byron Wesley was non existent. He played 16 minutes, missed two shots, made one free throw and had one assist. USC's leading scorer and rebounder barely made a blip in the boxscore.
"I just wasn't playing hard from the start," Wesley said. "[Enfield] told me to stay aggressive. Coach was real positive. He also told me I need to start getting rebounds. I wasn't doing my job in the first half."
In the second half, he did his job. On USC's second possession of the half, Wesley drove to the basket and was fouled. After making both free throws, he forced a turnover in the backcourt and took the ball to the hole for the Trojans' first fast break points of the game. He drove to the basket the next time down the court and again went to the free throw line, making both for a 7-0 Byron run.
Then when the Trojans needed him the most, Wesley was at his best. In the final 4:06, he scored nine of USC's 13 points. He made five clutch free throws in the final 2:25, including the go-ahead pair with 1:02 remaining. By the end of the game, Wesley had resuscitated his stat line. He finished with a game-high 20 points on 4-of-11 field goal shooting and 12-of-14 shooting from the free throw line. He finished with a modest four boards, but a pair of those came in the final two minutes.
Most Spectacular Play(s): No-Look for the Flush. On a sleepy night when there was more sloppy play than Sportscenter highlights, Roschon Prince found himself all alone under the basket in the first half. Pe'Shon Howard brought the ball to the left side and fired a nice no-look pass into Prince, who turned and threw down a two-handed slam.
Freshman Mistake. The most spectacular play of the night was spectacularly bad. The play started when Julian Jacobs got a piece of a Brandon Barnes' three-point attempt. Prince snatched the ball and flipped it ahead to a streaking Jacobs. With no one around him, Jacobs cocked the ball back with his arm perpendicular to his torso. He prepared to hammer home a tomahawk slam, but instead he clanked it off the rim sending it flying out of bounds beside the USC bench. Enfield wasted no time sending Chass Bryan into the game for Jacobs.
"He might not be allowed to dunk in the game any more," Wesley joked after the game.
Jacobs finished with possibly the worst game of his young career. He did not score, had four rebounds and had only one assist to two turnovers.
Unsung Hero: D.J. Haley. Coming off the bench, D.J. Haley has become a crucial role player for the Trojans. He does all the small things and does it in a 7-foot frame. With Omar Oraby saddled with foul trouble and only playing 17 minutes, Haley quietly put together another solid game with seven points and three rebounds in 19 minutes. He made both of his field goal attempts, was a mobile defensive presence against Bakersfield's smaller frontcourt and came up clutch from the free throw line, knocking down three of his four attempts in the last two minutes.
"He's a graduate student," Enfield said. "I thought he played great down the stretch. He gave us great energy. He defended and he made his free throws."
Haley shoots his free throws with a rafter-scraping arch and entered the game shooting only 52.9 percent from the line. But when he stepped to the line with an opportunity to tie the game with 1:40 remaining, he had his teammates' and his coaches' confidence. Wesley, Jovanovic and Enfield said after the game they each expected him to make the clutch ones.
"Step It Up:" Outhustled. Throughout the game, Bakersfield seemingly got to every loose ball and made all of the hustle plays.
"It was very disappointing," Enfield said. "I counted six times where we went for loose balls and we reached with one hand and they came diving in with two hands. And they got every single one."
And despite being undersized, the Roadrunners were dominant on the glass. They finished +4 in the rebounding margin against a USC squad that entered the week second in the Pac-12 in rebounds per game. Even more impressive was the 17 offensive rebounds (12 in the first half) Bakersfield collected, including five "team" boards when the rebound deflected out of bounds off a USC player.
Key stat(s): 1. That's the number of shots USC made outside of the lane. The Trojans scored 30 points in the paint and scored another 30 points at the free throw line. The only basket out of the paint came on a Pe'Shon Howard first half 3-pointer.
30-for-46. The Trojans shot 46 free throws Sunday night, compared to the 15 attempted by Bakersfield. USC attacked the rim and forced the issue against the smaller Roadrunners. The Trojans were averaging 25 free throws per contest entering the game.
7. Senior guard Pe'Shon Howard had seven turnovers, including a potential game changer with 15 seconds remaining that gave Bakersfield an extra opportunity to tie the game when the Trojans were trying to play keepaway until getting fouled. Luckily for Howard and the Trojans, Bakersfield couldn't knock down the big shot and capitalize on the mistake. It's one thing for a freshman to have seven turnovers and make an inexcusable mistake late, but the Trojans need their senior to be a rock in the backcourt.
14/10. Serbian freshman forward Nikola Jovanovic recorded his first career double-digit rebound performance, which turned into his first ever double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds). Jovanovic was 5-for-8 from the field and 4-for-5 on free throws. He added an assist, a block and a steal.
Quote of the Night:
"The guys on this team just find ways to win...It was a real ugly game. We grinded it out, so I'm extremely happy with my team." -- USC junior guard Byron WesleyWhere They Stand: The Trojans are now 6-0 at home this season. They have one final non-conference matchup at the Galen Center against Howard. USC plays its next two games on the road, traveling down the 405 freeway to Long Beach State for a 7:30 p.m. PT matchup Thursday night before a weekend trip to Dayton.
Enfield attributed part of the Trojans' sluggish performance to a bad week of practice during finals week. He said the team wasn't able to establish continuity because different players had to miss practices for studying and testing. Jovanovic was a bit wide-eyed when talking about the tough week -- his first finals week experience.
It definitely wasn't the performance that Enfield hoped for his team coming off a pair of strong games against Xavier and Boston College, but the Trojans did just enough to get the win. It wasn't pretty. It was just a W. That's what matters.
Highlights: Some quick highlights from @USC_Hoops