LOS ANGELES — Freshman phenom Onyeka “Big O” Okongwu booked a double-double and classmate Ethan Anderson dished out ten dimes as the USC Trojans pulled away late to defeat the Portland Pilots 76-65, Friday night at the Galen Center.
There was much discussion entering the season about the Trojans’ recruiting class that featured Big O and Isaiah Mobley. However, on this night, the unheralded Anderson put this team in a position to succeed.
“He had a really controlled game,” said USC head coach Andy Enfield about Anderson. “I thought he made the right reads… Anytime you get 10 assists in a game, it’s impressive, especially for a freshman. He’s developing as a player. He has great court vision. He’s a tough kid.”
USC opened the game by scoring the first seven points to put the visiting Pilots on their heels. The highly touted Big O made the first basket of the game off a put back, which was a sign of things to come.
“He does a lot on his own, if you see the five offensive rebounds,” said Enfield. “He’s constantly within the offense. He’s ball screening, rolling to the rim, posting up, going for the offensive glass, he runs the floor… He plays an important position in our system… He’s very impressive.”
The Pilots got onto the scoreboard with buckets by junior guard Jo Jo Walker and Isaiah White. White led all players in scoring with 22 points. The teams traded baskets for a while in the first half before Big O had to go to the bench with his second foul.
Graduate transfer Quinton Adlesh came off the bench, midway in the first half, and provided a spark by draining two three pointers to give the Trojans a 30-18 lead. The upperclassman’s presence had a positive impact on his team.
“They come into the game and already know what the deal is,” said USC senior guard Jonah Mathews about Nelson and Daniel Utomi, another graduate transfer. “Just having that experience on the court just helps me a lot.”
That huge first half lead would slowly begin to evaporate as the Trojans went through a spell of sloppy play, which included turnovers and missed assignments on defense and saw the Pilots trim the 12-point deficit down to one at 33-32.
“We let them come back in it,” said Enfield. “We made some defensive mistakes. We just didn’t defend.”
A dunk by Nick Rakocevic and a three by Mathews gave the Trojans cushion as they went into the locker room with a 41-35 lead. They finished with 11 and 12 points, respectively.
Two minutes out of the break, Big O picked up his third foul and had to exit the game. The Pilots fought tooth and nail, giving the Trojans a run for their money, as White got hot from deep. Although they were able to tie the game at 48, the visitors never held a lead.
The Trojan lead was two when Big O entered the game at the 13-minute mark. He scored eight points during a 13-4 USC run that put the game out of reach and shut the door on the Pilots’ hopes of getting a big road win.
Big O finished the game with 20 points and 10 rebounds, 14 and 8 coming in the final 13 minutes of the game. Sophomore Elijah Weaver chipped in 12 points, including stoking three of four from long range.
The Trojans have the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on deck, November 12 at the Galen Center.
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