USC basketball improved to 19-4 with Bennie Boatwright back and firing, besting Washington 82-74 in Seattle.
The lowdown: Bennie Boatwright’s return off the bench was bright in the early goings as the forward put up seven quick points in his first taste of action since November due to a sprained MCL.
Boatwright hit a lay up, a jumper and a three-pointer in the course of a minute and four seconds, helping the Trojans take a 15-14 lead.
However, Boatwright picked up two fouls just as quickly and had to sit down, going scoreless for the rest of the half.
The first half was a game of runs. After Washington jumped out to an 20-16 lead, USC responded with an 11-0 run sparked by an Elijah Stewart three-pointer, a dunk by De’Anthony Melton and a thundering slam by Chimezie Metu putting USC up 27-22.
Of course, the Huskies answered back.
David Crisp’s triple stopped the bleeding with five minutes left in the half — and the Trojans didn’t score another point as UW surged ahead on a 15-0 run to end the period.
Washington took a 37-27 lead into halftime.
USC opened the half on a much more positive note, with Metu supplying their their first points in five minutes on a dunk after a Melton steal.
With Boatwright back on the floor, the Trojans found it easier to generate offense. Boatwright himself contributed five points in the first two minutes as USC cut into Washington’s lead.
An easy fastbreak layup for Melton drew the Trojans within one point at 41-40.
Even with an emphatic alley-oop dunk from Boatwright to Metu, USC couldn’t take back the lead as UW responded to each push.
When it looked like the Huskies were going to pull away once more with back-to-back three-pointers by Crisp and Markelle Fultz back up 53-44, Jordan McLaughlin came up big with a triple to answer.
A scary sequence had the Trojans worried as Metu collided with a crowd of bodies and stayed down in pain. He came out for a minute before checking back in no worse for wear.
Past the midway point of the second half, the two teams traded three-pointers, but USC couldn’t draw any closer than three as UW hit 5-of-9 three-point attempts of the half after 14 minutes.
At the five minute mark, the Trojans final made their move. After McLaughlin free throws drew them within three, Boatwright delivered a pair of lay ups and a foul shot to take the 68-66 lead.
Down the stretch, a Metu steal to set up McLaughlin’s fastbreak layup gave USC a six point lead, but Sam Timmins’ putback dunk stopped the Trojans scoring run before Matisse Thybulle knocked down a three to shrink the advantage to just one.
Metu answered with a jump hook to make it 74-71 as the clock ticked down towards one minute.
Boatwright, McLaughlin and Metu each hit freethrows in the waning seconds, but Melton fouled Crisp on a three-point attempt, giving Washington new life at 78-74 with 25 seconds to go.
However, the Trojans took care of business from the charity stripe and took the 82-74 victory.
The takeaway: The headliner was Boatwright, who tied his career high point total in his first game back from a long layoff.
The difference with Boatwright in the game was noticeable, but the Trojans still had worrying stretches, allowing the Huskies to jump ahead on long scoring runs without response.
Of course, UW could make the same complaint going the other way as USC blitzed the Huskies on multiple occasions themselves, including the pivotal second half run to take the final lead.
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When it comes to road challenges, the Trojans will take it, especially since Boatwright’s return went far better than expected.
Now at 19-4 on the season, USC can seek win No. 20 with momentum remaining on their side, having won four of their last five.
USC’s Player of the game: Bennie Boatwright; 23 points, 7/10 FGs, 2/4 3FGs, 7/8 FTs, 2 rebounds, 4 assists.
Stat of the game: USC had 26 points off the bench compared to UW’s 1. Granted, 23 of those were Boatwright’s.
Next on tap: The Trojans stay up north hoping to extend their winning streak to three against the Washington State Cougars on Saturday night at 5:00 p.m.