USC basketball (25-9) rallied from a double-digit deficit in Dayton on Wednesday night to best Providence, 75-71, advancing to the Round of 64.
The lowdown: The NCAA Tournament started brightly for USC as Jordan McLaughlin forced a turnover and finished with a fastbreak layup on the first possession of the game before Bennie Boatwright hit his first attempt from deep to put the Trojans up 5-0.
Boatwright swished in a second three a couple minutes later after Providence stemmed the bleeding, but the Friar’s Jalen Lindsey responded immediately with a triple of his own as USC held a 10-7 advantage.
However things turned with Boatwright on the bench after a foul, as Lindsey took over, hitting a pair of three-pointers to put Providence ahead at 15-14.
After USC briefly reclaimed their lead, a Trojan cold snap opened the door for Providence to surge back ahead once again on an Emit Holt layup while a Rodney Bullock three-pointer capped a 15-0 run at 30-20.
McLaughlin hit from distance to end the run, but the Friars maintained all the momentum.
Providence’s Kyron Cartwright knocked down a triple and Bullock got behind the defense for a dunk as the Friars went up by 17 points with a minute left in the first half.
The Trojans went into the break trailing 44-29 after being outscored 29-9 to close the half.
A couple minutes into the second half, USC started to cut into the deficit. Jonah Mathews was fouled on a made three-pointer and McLaughlin made another from beyond the arc to pull it to 46-37.
The Friars responded with a pair of layups to beat the Trojans back, though USC was able to shrink it to a 10-point game by the 14-minute mark
Boatwright hit his first three since the opening minutes to draw the Trojans within single digits at 52-43 with 12 minutes to play.
Then Nick Rakocevic took center stage drawing a pair of fouls before getting under the basket and completing a three-point play. He followed that up by hitting a lay up and setting up a Metu tip-in to put USC within five points.
The freshman hit a pair of free throws to make it three and forced a turnover before Metu hit a mid-range jumper, putting the Trojans back in the lead at 61-60.
With the momentum on USC’s side, Metu came alive for a monster slam as the three-minute mark approached and the Trojans lead grew to 67-62.
Even though McLaughlin missed two of four free throw attempts in the final minute, Metu iced the game from the line as USC finished off the 75-71 victory.
The takeaway: The Trojans led the NCAA this year with 11 victories after trailing by double-digits coming into the game and they added one to their tally against the Friars.
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It was far from pretty in the first half as the Friars tore apart the Trojan zone, but USC showed their fighting spirit by blitzing Providence in the second half by leaning on an unexpected focal point — Rakocevic.
The freshman finished with nine critical points and injected USC with much needed energy under the basket in the second half. Rakocevic’s effort seemed to spark Metu as well, who finished the game strongly after starting the game 0-for-6 from the field.
Boatwright led the Trojans with a career-high 24 points to round out the effort while McLaughlin was posted 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
Stat of the game: USC outscored Providence 46-27 in the second half.
Next on tap: The Trojans travel to Tulsa for the Round of 64 against No. 6 seed SMU, who they beat at the Galen Center back in November.