The Christmas Day special edition of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic featured the USC Trojans facing-off with the New Mexico State Aggies, finishing the day in a tight 77-72 victory and winning the tournament.
The Trojans seemed to grab control early, taking a 10-point lead within the opening eight minutes of the game. Bennie Boatwright started his career night early, as he and Jordan McLaughlin knocked down 10 of the first 19 points for the Trojans. Boatwright went on to score a career best 33 points and for the first time hit six 3-point shots in in a single game.
USC required every one of Boatwright’s 33 points, with the other stars on the roster (Chimezie Metu and Elijah Stewart) combining for a quiet 12 points. Despite the exceptionally efficient shooting night for the Trojans, in which they hit 51 percent of their shots, Boatwright and McLaughlin carried the team. McLaughlin accumulated 12 points and eight assists throughout the clash.
However, the contest stayed tight, thanks to 28 points from the Aggies top scorer: Zach Lofton, who also hit six 3-pointers. Down the stretch, it was 3-point shooting that undid the Aggies, going 8-for-21 in contrast to USC’s 11-for-21.
After USC went up double-digits, the biggest lead was only six points by either side. As the war waged back and forth, New Mexico State took a 4-point lead at the 1:59 mark. Drives to the rim from McLaughlin and Jonah Mathews tied the game at 72 with 57 seconds in the contest. An icy 3-point splash from Boatwright gave the Trojans a 75-72 lead with four seconds left. Some foul shots from Metu finished out the game.
Three Digestible Nuggets
- A maligned Boatwright has gotten knocked over the season for not playing to expectations as far as outside shooting. After a foot injury sidelined him for two weeks and a game coming off the bench against Akron, Boatwright caught some of the fire he showed in last season’s March Madness. Over the last two games, he has hit 9-of-17 from downtown. He has posted 56 points in two games, giving USC an important deep threat while Stewart has been cold. The floor spacing offered by Boatwright’s will only help Metu and Nick Rakocevic as the team starts their conference play.
- The bench has not improved leaps and bounds by any expanse of the imagination, but they have started to offer some much needed support. The rotating of players like Boatwright, Stewart and Mathews has been crucial. Most recently it was a 9-point crutch offered by Mathews, which is not a lot, but enough to make more of a difference then the bench was early on in the season.
- Awareness is one of the more difficult attributes for a basketball team to attain, especially when there are a number of players to carry the team’s scoring. While the Trojans could be carried by a performance from McLaughlin, Metu, Boatwright or Stewart, the team stayed efficient in a big game by one of the studs on the roster. When Boatwright found a hot hand, the team fed him the ball, instead of forcing their own shots. The Trojans are not only incredibly talented, but self aware, looking to win instead of build personal stats.