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USC Rallies for Two-Point Win Over Winless Drexel

The Trojans won the turnover margin by +12, which proved to be the difference.

Malik Martin left the game with a knee injury.
Malik Martin left the game with a knee injury.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Drexel guard Damion Lee only missed three of his 11 thee-point attempts, but his stepback jumper over Katin Reinhardt in the final seconds clanked off the rim and the USC men's basketball team escaped with a 72-70 victory.

The USC men's basketball team looked to be en route to another ugly loss to a winless Drexel Dragons squad missing its starting point guard. But the Trojans rallied from a 14-point second half deficit to claim a two-point victory.

Despite being outrebounded and outshot, shooting 33 percent on 3-pointers, just 55 percent on free throws and losing starting forward Malik Martin to a hyperextended knee, the Trojans won the one area they've struggled the most this season -- the turnover battle. After averaging nearly 19 turnovers in each of its first three games, USC took care of the ball, giving it away only nine times.

The Trojans also attacked the Drexel ballhandlers without starting point guard Major Canady, who is out for the season with an ankle injury. The Trojans created turnover after turnover, which led to 25 points, including 14 fast break points. Drexel ended with 21 turnovers.

Lee finished with a game-high 32 points -- two points shy of his career high, but it wasn't enough to overcome the onslaught of turnovers USC caused with an energetic defense that created constant pressure once the Trojans switched to full-court pressure and a man-to-man half-court defense. USC began the game in a 2-3 zone and Drexel came out red hot, knocking down its first seven shots from the field to pull out to a commanding 19-6 lead.

The Trojans battled back, trimming the lead down to 29-26 before Damion Lee went off in the final 2:13 of the half, going on an 11-2 run by himself to put the Dragons up 40-28 at halftime. Drexel shot 63 percent in the first half, missing just eight shots. Of those eight missed shots, the Dragons retained five of them with offensive rebounds.

Drexel still had a 50-41 lead with 11:51 remaining, but USC scored 10 straight points in 62 seconds spurred by freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin. McLaughlin scored an old-fashioned three-point play and then stole the ball in the backcourt and dished a no-look pass to Darion Clark for a dunk. McLaughlin then grabbed a defensive rebound and fed Elijah Stewart for a 3-pointer. McLaughlin then came up with another steal and dished to Nikola Jovanovic for another dunk that gave USC its first lead of the day.

The teams battled back and forth with three ties and six more lead changes down the stretch before USC went on a 7-0 run to take a six-point lead with 1:36 remaining, but Drexel would not go away. A Julian Jacobs driving layup with 39 seconds remaining put USC up 71-67 only for Damion Lee to knock down his eighth 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.

Katin Reinhardt made the second of two free throws to push USC's lead to 72-70. Jacobs then stole the ball as Drexel was bringing it up the floor, but instead of pulling it out and waiting to get fouled, Jacobs threw a lob pass to Darion Clark, who caught the ball and clanked it off the rim rather than flushing it home.

Drexel grabbed the rebound and had one final opportunity. Inbounding with 7.4 seconds, the Dragons got the ball to Lee on the left side. He went toward the middle, crossed over and stepped back for a deep 3-pointer. The shot was long and Nikola Jovanovic retrieved the rebound to secure the victory.

Clark, who earned his first start with USC, scored a team-high 15 points to lead four Trojans in double figures. He also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds. Jordan McLaughlin had his best all around game of his career. He scored 11 points, dished six assists, had four steals and turned the ball over only once.

Julian Jacobs had 12 points, four rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block -- without any turnovers. With Malik Martin leaving the game in the first half and Jovanovic mostly ineffective for the fourth time this season, Luis Gavrilovic stepped up and played a big role in the second half. He brought tremendous energy, scoring 10 points and grabbing three rebounds in 19 minutes.

Elijah Stewart, who started for the first time, scored a career-high seven points despite being in foul trouble for the second day in a row and only playing 18 minutes.

With its win, USC will face the winner of the Penn State/Cornell game at 12:30 p.m. PT in a Charleston Classic consolation game. Drexel will seek its first win against the loser of the Penn State/Cornell game at 10:30 a.m. PT on Sunday.