LOS ANGELES — It was a play that USC guard Drew Peterson repeated several times on Tuesday night: Post up a smaller defender, spin back for a fadeaway basket. One of Peterson’s favorite moves, year after year.
But after a rocky offensive performance had allowed visiting Vermont to stick around, the Catamounts erasing every two-point lead the Trojans threw at them, this particular fadeaway felt a little cathartic for Peterson.
A defender’s hand on his elbow elicited the official’s whistle, and Peterson’s shot went through the cylinder. And the senior guard pumped his fist yelling at the USC bench to celebrate the pending three-point play and the Trojans’ largest lead to that point – five – with 1:57 to play.
It was the space USC needed to put the Catamounts away for a 59-57 win.
“It’s a test that’ll really help us down the road,” Peterson said. “We need to get a little bit tougher and I think that’s what we showed tonight.”
Peterson shook off a rocky early shooting performance to finish with a game-high 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Reece Dixon-Waters added 13 points for USC.
Whatever offensive progress USC had made from Game 1 to Game 2 was lost over the weekend. USC shot made just 25.9% of its attempts from the field in the first half, with Peterson and Boogie Ellis combining to go 2 for 10.
USC got a little momentum in the middle of the half after a 1-for-8 start but ended 1 for 11 as Vermont went on an 8-2 run to take a five-point lead into the locker room. That stretch only got worse for USC as it opened the second half by missing its first six shots.
And it wasn’t just bad shooting, but some trepidation on the Trojans’ part to put the ball in the air. On one possession, Peterson caught a pass while open at the 3-point arc. Rather than taking the shot, he dribbled in and clanked a mid-range jumper off the rim, leading to a collective groan from the USC coaching staff.
And the hustle plays weren’t there for USC, either. Center Joshua Morgan blocked a Nick Fiorillo 3-point attempt in the corner, only for Fiorillo to grab his own rebound and get into the paint for a layup. A lazy pass around the arc by Kobe Johnson was swatted away by Finn Sullivan, who found Perry Smith for a transition layup through an Ellis foul.
The irony was, with the way USC defended, the Trojans never should have been in this position. Making use of a rare height advantage against the Catamounts, USC rotated well and forced Vermont to work for every shot it got. And USC limited Vermont to three second-chance opportunities to make up for the misses.
But the Catamounts and Trojans traded the lead 19 times until Peterson began to take over. He found Morgan for a go-ahead layup. Then when Vermont tied the score on the next possession, Peterson spun to the rim for another go-ahead layup.
“He played great in the second half,” Coach Andy Enfield said. “He made the right decisions, made the right plays.”
All told, Peterson scored or assisted on 14 of USC’s last 17 points to wrap up the win, with Enfield calling several post-up isolations for the senior to take control of the final minutes. And he finished the game with zero turnovers.
“I appreciate the trust that the staff has with me,” Peterson said. “There’s trust across the board. I know we’re shooting poor right now but we have a team that can shoot the ball. It showed at the end and we’re going to keep working.”