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Trojans Rally To Squeeze Out Win Over Northern Arizona

Alexander Wowra |
November 16, 2013 | 1:31 a.m. PST

Sports Staff

Byron Wesley had 31 points for a career high (Christina Savan/Neon Tommy)
Byron Wesley had 31 points for a career high (Christina Savan/Neon Tommy)
Thanks to Byron Wesley and significant improvements in the second half, the USC Men's Basketball squad beat Northern Arizona 67-63 on Friday. The Trojans were overall subpar from the free throw line, but hit just enough to fend off a Lumberjacks rally and earn new head coach Andy Enfield his second win at USC.

In the first half, Enfield's team could not find their rhythm. Once Northern Arizona gained their first lead at 15-13, the Trojans let them pull away by as much as 12 points with 3:13 left to play in the first half. The Trojans went 0-of-8 from behind the three-point-line in the opening half, while also struggling to contain the Lumberjacks' attempts from downtown. 

The Lumberjacks netted half of their first half field goals from beyond the three-point stripe. This allowed them to take a luxurious 10-point lead over the Trojans despite the fact that Enfield's team was more successful shooting from the perimeter and inside the paint. The Trojans shot 41.9 percent in the first half to Northern Arizona's 38.2 percent clip. 

Andy Enfield logged his second USC victory Friday, but not without trouble. (Alexander Wowra/Neon Tommy)
Andy Enfield logged his second USC victory Friday, but not without trouble. (Alexander Wowra/Neon Tommy)

Additional difficulty for the Trojans came from the free throw lane. USC hit less than 40 percent of their shots from the charity stripe in the opening half, and shot a horrendous 19-of-36 for the game (52.8 percent).

The only reason USC was still in the game at this point was the tremendous performance of junior guard Byron Wesley, who hit his first seven field goal attempts and finished with a career-high 31 points. 

Going into the locker room 10 points down, Enfield seemingly found the right tone at intermission to turn things around. "The first half was not good, but they learned from it, so I am actually happy to have a game like this where we could win the game while we learned from our mistakes," the young coach said after the game.

The Trojans successfully played catch up and came within three points with 12:20 to go in the game. The team played better defense, denied Dixon the three-point shot and started to control the pace of the game. 

There were more deflections and the offensive spacing seemed to work out better as well. The first signs of Enfield's envisioned up-tempo offensive system became visible. 

Center D.J. Haley played nine of his total 13 minutes in the second half and forced four turnovers during that span. "He gave us great energy, and I thought it was a key in the second half how he picked our team up," Enfield explained. 

Enfield also attributed the comeback to his team's stamina and strength of the bench, which outscored NAU's 9-2. "In the first half, they were a little fresher but we were deeper… our depth wore them down a little bit and some of those threes were going in the first half but not in the second half."

It was at this psychologically crucial time, with the momentum shifting towards USC, when Wesley finally broke the spell and tied the game at 44 with the Trojans' first three-pointer of the night, sending the crowd to its feet.  

The Trojans dominated the paint, scoring a total of 42 points from inside, but also gave up 18 offensive rebounds. "We got our hands on a lot of rebounds, the other team was just a little stronger than us," Enfield said. "We got a couple of guys who just need to spend some more time in the weight room."

Omar Oraby, who had a tough night offensively in scoring nine points, as well as forward Nikola Jovanovic and guards Julian Jacobs and Wesley stepped up their game defensively and the team finally regained the lead at 48-46 through Jovanovic's layup with just under 10 minutes to go. The momentum was on USC's side, and the Trojans forced a couple more turnovers translating into points to help them go ahead. Chief among this was a spectacular block by Oraby, which led to a counter-attack resulting in a Wesley lay-up to give the Trojans some breathing room at 57-50 with 6:14 to go.

The Lumberjacks quickly answered, but point guard Pe'Shon Howard contributed the second and last three-pointer for USC with 04:09 left to play, widening USC's lead back to four. However, after not converting any three point attempts until late in the second half, Dixon found his groove again and responded with a score from downtown. 

Soon after, Northern Arizona tied the game at 61 with 2:30 to go. They retook the lead on the possession after that, but the Trojans' defense came up big when it mattered most. Haley's rebound initiated a counter-attack resulting in a Howard assist for an easy Oraby layup to make it 65-63 with 54 seconds left.

The Trojans stood strong defensively, and Jacobs made one of two free throws to extend the lead to three. Dixon missed another three facing two USC defenders, and Haley rebounded the ball and hit the game-clinching free throw to win it for the Trojans. 

Although the performance from the team was lacking, Wesley showed that he is evolving as a leader after setting a career high in points the game after he set a career best in rebounds. There were several plays drawn up specifically for him, and Enfield took him out for just four of the 40 minutes because of his superb performance. "I think that Coach Enfield is starting to notice that I am a pretty good scorer, and it definitely feels good," Wesley said.

While the Trojans head coach was happy with the offensive performance of his team, he acknowledged  that the free throw game was a big weakness. Even though the Trojans improved from 36.4 percent in the first half to 60 percent in the second, Enfield scoffed. "They need to make a couple hundred before they go to sleep tonight, so we will see what time they get to bed. We might have to get breakfast at the Galen Center." Their next game is at the Galen Center on Tuesday against Cal State Fullerton, but no word if they're still on the court shooting.

Reach Staff Writer Alexander Wowra here



 

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