Rakocevic leads USC past Long Beach State 75-65
But when Long Beach State came charging back from a 14-point, second-half deficit to pull within two, Rakocevic found new life and led the Trojans to a 75-65 victory.
Rakocevic scored 13 of his 19 points in the game’s final nine minutes and added a game-high 12 rebounds for the Trojans (5-2).
“He missed a lot of shots early,” said USC coach Andy Enfield. “I know he was frustrated. He probably could have had 25 or 26 points tonight.”
“He was terrific,” said Long Beach associate head coach Myke Scholl. “We’ve spent the last couple weeks talking to him about really getting aggressive at his spots.”
Long Beach held USC to 42.2 percent shooting, but hit only 35.7 percent on its own shots.
“I’m really proud of this team defensively,” Scholl said. “They hung together when we got down and really gritted it out.”
USC jumped out to a 47-33 lead early in the second half and looked poised for a runaway, but the 49ers answered with a 10-0 run to pull back in the game.
Long Beach closed to within two points three different times but could never catch the Trojans.
“We have to do a better job of boxing out,” Rakocevic said. “You have to make sure they don’t get second-chance points. But you have to give Long Beach credit, they played well.”
The 49ers outrebounded the bigger Trojans, 48-43.
USC led just 58-56 with six minutes to play before Mathews connected on a drive and then Rakocevic hit three consecutive shots.
“It was a tough game,” Enfield said. “We played just well enough to win the game.
“We missed a lot of easy shots and did not pass the ball as well as we have, but they found a way to win.”
Long Beach State: Wednesday was the 49ers’ fourth game against a Pac-12 team in their first eight games. They still have Stanford scheduled (Dec. 29) before starting conference play.
USC: Rakocevic’s output on the boards was hardly a one-time thing. He entered the game averaging 11.7 rebounds per game, sixth nationally and tops in the Pac-12.
The 49ers played without leading scorer Deishuan Booker (16.0 per game). A Long Beach team spokesman said he was suspended one game for a violation of team rules.
RISING TO CHALLENGE
Thornton, a junior point guard who transferred from Duke after his freshman season, also led the Trojans with six assists. He connected on both of his 3-point attempts.
“I’m just slowing things down and letting the game come to me,” Thornton said. “Don’t rush — I’m still working on that — and make sure everyone is happy.”
Long Beach State: Will play its seventh game away from home in its first nine games when the 49ers travel to the University of San Diego on Saturday.
USC: The Trojans face their first ranked team of the season when they play host to No.5 Nevada on Saturday.
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