The USC Trojans Men’s basketball team trailed the Providence Friars by 15 points at halftime and would trail by 17 shortly into the second half. Tonight’s game was the 12th time this season the Trojans had overcome a 10+ point deficit and it was the largest deficit the Trojans have ever overcome in an NCAA Tournament game.
6’11” freshman Nick Rakocevic scored 7 clutch points in the second half that really helped jump start the Trojans’ comeback was asked about all of these Trojan rallies include Wednesday night’s comeback over the Friars:
“I’m not sure why we do it, you know. I think it’s just, give coach a heart attack or something. [. . .] Coach gave us a game plan to just keep chopping away, keep chopping away at the lead. And everybody’s energy was on point tonight, and I think that’s why we came away with a great win.”
And what was that game plan? The Friars were dominating behind the arc in the first half and the Trojans have struggled with defending the three pointer. Coach Enfield would switch to a lineup that they have not used all season.
“We started switching 1 through 4. Then went big. It’s the first time this year we put Boatwright at the 3 because Nick was playing so well and our guards were struggling a little bit shooting.
So we put Bennie at 3 at 6’10”, a small forward and we put Chimezie at the power forward, and Nick at center. And we played big for at least 10, 12 minutes [. . .]
On the defensive end, we had 16 offensive rebounds because of our size and we were able to post up Boatwright — we set a couple of cross screens with him, got the ball in the post, isolated him on their smaller guys and when they switched, we isolated him on their bigger guys.
[ . . .]
So I give our players credit, because when you don’t play like that for an entire season and now you’re in a NCAA Tournament game in the second half, that was really special for them to adjust and to play so well together.”
Boatwright would score a career-high 24 points tonight as well as 7 rebounds and a block shot. Most importantly Providence only got five 3-point attempts off in the second half making only one of those attempts. By comparison the Friars were 8 for 15 from behind the arc in the first half.
And that was the difference in this game. Providence’s one clear and exploitable advantage was hitting 3-pointers and coach Andy Enfield made a bit of a radical, or at least untested, strategic change in the NCAA Tournament when the Trojans’ backs were against the wall.
Chimezie Metu had all of 4 points in the first half, he struggled mightily and he was visibly frustrated with his play. After the lineup switch Metu scored 11 points in the second half to finish with 15 on the game.
Providence head coach Ed Cooley for his part did not think Enfield’s switch made any difference opting to blame the Friars collapse on lazy defense among other things instead:
“In the second half, the ball didn’t move that way. I thought we took some quick shots. I think we missed—I think we had three out of four possessions where we turned it over. I don’t think it was anything they did that was special. [. . .] Their length in front of the rim was really effective for them. But I dont think it was anything they did special. We missed shots and they made some shots. I thought we got lazy defensively in the second half, and I was shocked”
The big men stepped up big time when others went ice cold. Elijah Stewart, Shaqquan Aaron, and Jonah Mathews all went scoreless in the first half. De’Anthony Melton only had 2 first half points. Of those 4 players Jonah Mathews was the only one to score in the second half. Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, Jordan McLaughlin and Nick Rakocevic however scored more than enough points after the rotation to give the Trojans the victory.
Before this game we said the Trojans were going to have to show us something they have not yet shown us if they are going to win this game. We meant specifically winning against a quality opponent away from the Galen Center. The Trojans did just that and came away with a victory after trailing by 17.
Up next USC will get a rematch with the SMU Mustangs who USC knocked off at home back in November.