Saturday, May 25, 2024

USC’s Vincent Iwuchukwu steps up in win over Washington State

Must read

LOS ANGELES — When USC center Joshua Morgan left the first half of Thursday’s game against Washington State with an ankle injury, the Trojans were presented with a conundrum. Beside an array of unreliable post options was freshman Vincent Iwuchukwu. Seven games into his comeback after undergoing cardiac arrest over the summer, Iwuchukwu had been on a minutes restriction and it was unclear how much he could help.

But the center played a career-high 22 minutes and blocked four shots, none bigger than a second effort attempt to block a 3-point attempt after being pump-faked. After a transition dunk with 37 seconds left, Iwuchukwu left for the bench, exhausted and breathing deeply after helping the Trojans (16-6, 8-3 in Pac-12) close out an 80-70 win.

“Vince was terrific. He played very hard,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “He had no training camp, no summer basketball, no fall, no scrimmages. You throw him into Pac-12 play in the middle of the season and it takes a little bit to adjust. I thought he was great defensively.”

Guard Boogie Ellis scored 23 points, 17 coming in the second half, to lead the Trojans, while Drew Peterson added 20.

The Trojans were in total disarray to begin the game. Mouhamed Gueye scored Washington State’s first 11 points as the Cougars got what they wanted, either on trips to the rim or on kickouts to shooters. The USC half-court defense was such a mess that the Trojans attempted a full-court press, only for it to result in an open corner 3-pointer for Washington State.

To make matters worse, Morgan came down awkwardly on his right foot while contesting a shot and had to hop off the court, returning to the bench in a walking boot in the second half.

But the tide began to turn with an innocent Reese Dixon-Waters jumper. Peterson followed with his own fadeaway, then a Dixon-Waters steal resulted in a two-handed Tre White dunk, and USC had life.

After missing his first four shots, Ellis hit a 3-pointer. All he needed was to see the ball go through the basket. After a Cougars travel, Ellis threw a lob for another White dunk, then hit an NBA-distance 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one.

“I’m always in the gym and working on my game so I have extreme confidence even when I’m missing shots,” Ellis said. “I feel like the younger me would check out the game if I’m not making shots but just believing in myself, trusting my work.”

On the next possession, Peterson stepped back into a 3-pointer that swished through the net, and the Trojans had retaken a 30-28 lead, going on to close the half with a two-point edge after holding the visitors to 2-for-12 shooting across the last nine minutes.

The teams traded shots in the second half, which featured six lead changes and two ties. When Carlos Rosario dove to tip the ball to Justin Powell for a third-chance 3-pointer and a two-point Washington State lead with 4:23 left, it was fair to wonder if USC had enough gas left to close the game.

But USC closed on a 17-5 run, knocking down 16 of 22 free throws in the second half while Kobe Johnson hit a 3-pointer to give the Trojans the lead for good. And Iwuchukwu put together his first signature moment at Galen Center while finishing a team-high plus-13.

With USC up three with under two minutes left, Iwuchukwu blocked a Powell layup attempt only for Gueye to grab the offensive rebound. The ball found its way to T.J. Bamba on the perimeter and Iwuchukwu closed out, attempting a block with his right arm. Bamba pumped, but Iwuchukwu twisted his body after landing to block the ball with his left hand.

“It’s awesome to see, especially with Josh going out us and him being able to step up,” Peterson said. “It’s great to see him progress like this.”

More articles

Latest article