LOS ANGELES – USC had one of its characteristically slow starts, Thursday night at the Galen Center. Down by as much as 14 to UC Irvine, the Trojans came back with a fast and furious rally late in the second half.
Down 59-54 with 2:38 left to play, it was the closest that USC (4-7) had been in the second half. And thanks to the fast hands of Michael Wilder, it was the closest the Trojans would get.
Wilder was in the paint with the shot clock about to expire and Dewayne Dedmon countering his every move. Wilder shot faked and ducked around Dedmon, dishing off to a waiting Adam Folker who hit the easy layup.
The Anteaters finally got the breakout win they have come close to all season, defeating the Trojans, 61-54.
The third time proved to be the charm for UC Irvine (6-7). Earlier in the season, UCI took a 13th-ranked UCLA team into overtime. The Bruins needed nearly every second of OT, finally pushing the game out of reach when Larry Drew II hit a driving layup with just 16.9 seconds left. And just this week, UCI lost to LSU by six.
“It really does feel good to be rewarded with a win against another tough defensive team,” said UCI head coach Russell Turner. “I’ve got a real smart team and thought they showed that tonight.”
Daman Starring had a game-high 23 points and was nearly perfect from the perimeter, going 5-for-6 against a zone defense was that was only effective in spurts. Folker finished with 12 points on a 6-for-8 effort from the field.
For USC, Omar Oraby scored 12 points and blocked two shots but came away with just three rebounds. The Anteaters held former teammate Eric Wise, who had spent the last three seasons as UCI’s starting forward, to 10 points and four rebounds.
The key stat was the turnovers, as the Trojans turned the ball over 16 times and the ‘Eaters scored 14 points off of them.
USC head coach Kevin O’Neill took responsibility for the ball handling.
“When you turn the ball over so many times and at key times get beat down the floor… Ultimately that’s on me. I’m the coach.” O’Neill said.
The Anteaters pulled ahead late in the first half. The Trojans were struggling to make plays and Folker and Starring began to pick apart the defense, helping the Anteaters go on an 11-3 run to end the half up 37-25.
“They played great,” O’Neill said, “they deserved to win the game.”