Despite Nick Rakocevic’s 19 points and 18 rebounds, USC basketball dropped their first loss of the season on Sunday evening, falling to Vanderbilt at the Galen Center, 82-78.
The Trojans opened the game struggling to score but the introduction of freshman Kevin Porter Jr. sparked the offense with 11 straight points for the Trojans.
It was a battle of the freshmen, in fact, as the Commodores were led by their own pair of first year phenoms Simisola Shittu and Darius Garland, who put up 14 and 19 points respectively.
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Going into the second half trailing 42-36, USC ripped off a 9-0 run featuring a variety of contributors including Nick Rakocevic, Shaqquan Aaron, Jordan Usher and Derryck Thornton. The Trojans took the lead for the first time at 47-45.
Foul trouble for Shittu and Garland hampered the Commodores in the close game, but it was Porter Jr. who picked up his fifth foul first, ending his night with five minutes to play.
Usher, the third leading scorer in cardinal and gold, fouled out a couple of minutes later with the two teams locked at 69 apiece.
Garland’s driving layup with a minute left put Vanderbilt up by four and in command. With the Trojans fouling to extend the game from there, the Commodores hit their free throws down the stretch and secured the victory over USC.
Fresh off a season where a lack of quality wins downed the Trojans’ NCAA Tournament hopes, USC failed to pick up a resume boost of a win at home against Vanderbilt.
More concerning, the Trojans were plagued by many of the same problems as last year’s squad, notably foul trouble, free throw shooting and an apparent lack of killer instinct.
Rakocevic was back in the starting lineup and proved his worth by leading the team with 19 points, 18 points and two blocks. However, his efforts weren’t matched by other USC veterans like Aaron and Jonah Mathews.
The performance of Porter Jr. offers quite a bit of hope, though he will need to stay on the floor to continue to make a difference. He finished with 14 points, four rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 23 minutes of play.
Stat of the game: Vanderbilt started the game 8-of-18 from the free throw line, but made 11-of-12 down the stretch (H/T Shotgun Spratling of USCFootball.com)
Next on tap: The 1-1 Trojans will welcome Stetson to the Galen Center on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. live on the Pac-12 Network.