USC basketball survived a comeback bid by Oregon State to open the Pac-12 slate with a victory, their 14th of the season, 70-63.
The lowdown: It was a low-scoring affair in the early goings, but USC eventually jumped out to a big lead.
The Trojans pulled ahead with a 13-0 run, including back-to-back dunks from Elijah Stewart, who slammed it from the baseline, and Chimezie Metu, who grabbed a tipped rebound and rattled the backboard as he put it home, plus back-to-back three-pointers from Jonah Mathews and Charles Buggs.
Despite Jordan McLaughlin sitting out a large chunk of the half after being hit in the eye, USC enjoyed a 34-7 lead at halftime. The freshmen, Mathews and De’Anthony Melton topped the Trojan scorers at the break while Oregon State shot just 25 percent from the field.
Returning from the break, however, the Beavers were able to cut into USC’s advantage when shots started to fall and a slew of fouls against the Trojans put OSU in the bonus early in the half.
When a free throw by Ben Kone pulled Oregon State within 13, it was Mathews who came up with a shot from distance to give the Trojans some cushion.
Again the Beavers looked to chip away at USC’s lead.
When Nick Rakocevic took an elbow to the face from Drew Eubanks following a rebound, the refs initially called a foul, but went to the monitor and rescinded it. With possession back in hand, Oregon State’s Stephen Thompson Jr. knocked down a three, drawing withing 11 points of the Trojans at 43-32 near the midway point of the second half.
Chimezie Metu got active in the paint for USC, helping to push the lead back up to 15 with a lay up and a quick dunk.
Tempers flared at the seven-minute mark when Buggs and Eubanks got in a scuffle. After a long deliberation refs assessed a technical foul on Eubanks for stepping on Buggs and ejected guard Tanner Sanders for leaving the bench during the commotion.
McLaughlin hit both free throws then maxed out USC’s possession courtesy of the technical by knocking down a three-pointer, putting the Trojans up 57-43.
However, USC’s cold shooting opened the door for the Beavers to take another run at the lead, trimming it to eight points at the three-minute mark.
Melton drew fouls on two possessions and calmly hit all four free throws to beat Oregon State back, though the Beavers came within six points in the final minute.
Ultimately, the Trojans held on for the 70-63 win.
The takeaway: USC remains one of just five undefeated teams in Division I this season, surviving on a night when UCLA suffered their first lost at the hands of Oregon.
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However, what should have been an easy victory turned into a nervy test late in the second half.
On the one hand, the Trojans looked vulnerable, struggling not for the first time this season with putting an opponent to bed.
On the other hand, USC’s players, from veterans like McLaughlin to freshmen like Melton, kept their cool and didn’t let the victory slip away.
McLaughlin finished with 10 points, and led the team with eight rebounds and four assists while Melton hit six of his seven critical free throw attempts.
Player of the game: Chimezie Metu; 19 points, 5-of-9 FGs, 9-10 FTs, 7 rebounds, 2 assists.
Stat of the game: USC didn’t score a field goal in the final 5:37 of the game, but hit 10-of-10 free throws in that span.
Next on tap: The Trojans will take on the Oregon Ducks in Eugene on Friday at 7:00 p.m.