The USC Trojans missed six straight free throws down the stretch, but escaped with a victory over Utah State thanks to a season-high 89 points and career highs from Nikola Jovanovic, Jordan McLaughlin and Luis Gavrilovic.
In a battle of big men, Utah State redshirt freshman forward David Collette was the real standout Sunday afternoon at the Galen Center. Collette made all eight of his first half shots on his way to a career-high 32 points (12 of 16) and 14 rebounds. But Jovanovic dropped 23 points and got the last laugh, knocking down a big 3-pointer with 3:31 remaining to put the Trojans ahead for good.
Here are the highlights from the Trojans' victory over Utah State:
Here are the three big takeaways from USC's five-point non-conference win:
1. Offensive Onslaught
In the process of putting up their most first half points (40), highest point total of the season (89) and the second most points under Andy Enfield, the Trojans shot a season-best 50 percent (31 for 62) from the field. They also made a season-high 12 three-point buckets led by Jordan McLaughlin's five 3-pointers (though it took him 13 attempts).
"We usually can't score 89 points with no one guarding us, so I was a little shocked we made so many threes," USC head coach Andy Enfield joked. "But we've been playing much better offensively."
McLaughlin also contributed to USC's season-high 22 assists and its season-best 2.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He set up five baskets and had his third game with only one turnover (USC is 3-0 in those games). Fellow starting guard Katin Reinhardt had a season-high six assists and only one turnover. He has only one turnover in the last two games after averaging 2.3 in the first seven games this year.
2. Big Buckets Off the Bench
Luis Gavrilovic is a guy that comes off the bench to provide a spark for USC. In the second half Sunday afternoon, he produced one hell of a jolt rather than just a measly spark. Gavrilovic made five of his six field goal attempts in the final 20 minutes.
"You see the confidence he's starting to develop. He's put a lot of time in the gym and I think that's where it comes from," Enfield said. "When he gets in the game, he only knows one way to play and that's as hard as he can."
With the score tied at 60, Andy Enfield had an offensively challenged lineup on the floor. Reserve point guard Chass Bryan was joined by Katin Reinhardt and Elijah Stewart in the backcourt along with Darion Clark and Gavrilovic down low. But the offense came in a big way from Gavrilovic.
He put the Trojans ahead driving from the left wing and banking in a jumper off the glass over a defender. On USC's next possession, he stepped out behind the line and knocked down his first 3-pointer of the year. Following a Utah State turnover, the Trojans used some very nice interior pass with Stewart driving toward the middle and finding Clark, who quickly fired the ball to a cutting Gavrilovic for a reverse layup for his seventh point in a row. The next time down the floor, it was Gavrilovic finding Clark under the basket. Clark was fouled and knocked down both free throws for a 9-0 run.
"Strahinja played a great game. He made a couple of mid-range jump shots. He made a three. He's really worked on his shot in the offseason," Enfield said. "I love coaching big guys that can shoot the ball."
3. Nikola The Great
USC is now 10-4 all time when Serbian sophomore Nikola Jovanovic scores in double figures. He was dynamic and dominant on the offensive end for the Trojans against Utah State. He tied his career high in points by scoring 17 in the second half.
After being 3 for 4 in the first half, Jovanovic went 6 for 7 and knocked down both of his three-point attempts in the second half. It was the first two 3-pointers Jovanovic has made this season. He was strong down low on the block and showed his versatility being able to step out and knock down the two big long distance shots, including the three that broke the game's ninth tie and put USC up for good.
It was a continuous for the big man, who seems to have found his groove after struggling early.
"It always happens that you just start slow in the season and then heating up and heating up," Nikola Jovanovic said. "Finally the shots fall in."
"I thought he underperformed most of the season," Andy Enfield said. "He’s really played well the last few games. You’re starting the see the player we thought he’d be and he wants to be."
***And the Foul!
4. J-Mac to JuJu Turning Into Special Combination
Following the under four minute media timeout, Utah State trimmed the lead back down to one point with two free throws. On USC's first possession, Jordan McLaughlin walked the ball up the court on the right side and saw Utah State in a zone defense. He barely made it two steps past halfcourt when he locked eyes with Julian Jacobs standing deep in the left corner.
Jacobs took off for the rim and McLaughlin followed his lead, lobbing a perfect alley-oop pass to the bottom corner of the backboard where Jacobs snatched the pass out of the air and slammed it home on top of David Collette, who came over too late. Jacobs hung on the rim with one hand behind his head while he loomed over Collette's back. The dunk gave the Trojans a three-point advantage that was pushed to an insurmountable six points with 47 seconds remaining.
Over the next few years, the combination of passing and athleticism from the Jordan and Julian, JJ alley-oops, are going to be quite special for Trojan fans.