Following a narrow home loss against Temple Nov. 22, the Trojans took on a talented field Thursday through Sunday in the Orlando Invitational. USC came home with third place behind two 2019 NCAA Tournament teams Marquette and No. 3 Maryland.
The Trojans made their way past Fairfield in the opening round, defeating the Stags 54-47. USC’s stout defense held Fairfield to just 27% shooting from the field and forced 10 turnovers.
The Trojans’ offense was fairly stagnant, scoring just 54 points on a 41.7% field goal percentage. Guards senior Jonah Mathews and sophomore Elijah Weaver and freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu monopolized the Trojans’ scoring effort, combining for 41 out of the team’s 54 points.
As in previous games this season, USC’s versatile defenders are making up for poor 3-point shooting performances, preventing opponents to capitalize on perimeter shots.
“Our guards played tough, especially against their perimeter shooters,” head coach Andy Enfield said.
Following the opening round victory, the Trojan defense was unable to hold up as effectively against Marquette. Marquette boasts the top scorer in the country in senior guard Markus Howard, who currently averages 29.3 points per game after putting up 51 points against the Trojans.
After USC surged to an early 11-5 lead, Howard went on an 11-0 solo run. The Trojans failed to match his offensive output and never led from that point on, falling 101-79 to the Golden Eagles.
“We didn’t play well. We really had trouble stopping Howard and what he did to our defense,” Enfield said after the loss. “But it’s one game, it’s one loss, so we have to bounce back mentally and physically.”
USC did just that against another quality opponent in Harvard. The Trojans stepped up to the plate and put together a complete game for a decisive 77-62 victory.
After giving up 43 points in the first half, USC made the necessary defensive adjustments to allow just 19 in the second. Okongwu led the way for the Trojans with 27 points on 12-of-14 shooting and 14 rebounds, while Mathews and graduate transfer guard Quinton Adlesh each added 12 points. Okongwu finished with his fourth double-double of the season, continuing to establish himself as one of the top freshmen in the country.
The big difference offensively against Harvard was the Trojans’ ability to shoot efficiently and get strong offensive production from their guards. At 49.2% from the field and 50% from behind the arc, USC had a balanced scoring effort.
The Trojans’ stellar frontcourt continued to dominate. Okongwu and senior forward Nick Rakocevic have been a steady presence inside, with freshman forward Isaiah Mobley heating up as the season goes on.
“[They were] too much for us to defend,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said of the Trojans’ frontcourt.
While Rakocevic struggled in the opening round against Fairfield, shooting 2-of-9 for 5 points and conceding four turnovers, he improved his play over the next two matchups, shooting 60% from the field against Marquette and turning the ball over just once against Harvard.
After going 2-1 in the tournament and achieving its most complete victory of the year over a talented Harvard team, the Trojans hold a 7-2 record and have shown the potential to make noise in Pac-12 play.
After four days of rest, USC will head to Fort Worth and the brand new Dickies Arena to take on 5-1 TCU Friday night.