Second-half run propels USC past Robert Morris, 83-62
LOS ANGELES (AP) — USC struggled for the first 28 minutes of its season opener against Robert Morris on Tuesday night, but what the Trojans were able to do over the final 12 minutes in a 83-62 victory might be a preview of what could happen over the next four months.
“It was a slow start in the beginning. I think that was the jitters everyone talked about. Then we started playing defense and sharing the ball,” said forward Nick Rakocevic, who had 18 points and 16 rebounds. “I think the second half set the tone for what this team could be.”
The Trojans led 37-35 at halftime but were trailing by four with 12:19 remaining before going on an 18-4 run to seize control. Shaqquan Aaron scored 11 of his 20 points during the run, including a pair of dunks, and Rakocevic four.
Aaron had a breakaway dunk off a Derryck Thornton assist to give the Trojans the lead for good (55-53) with 10:55 remaining. The senior guard said he felt like that play helped shift momentum back to them.
“That ignited us a lot. It brought the crowd into the game and gave us another boost of energy,” Aaron said.
Jordan Mathews added 15 points for the Trojans, who return seven of their 10 leading scorers from last season.
“The first half we really struggled but then we came together and shared the basketball,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We made adjustments. It is a fun style to play when you can spread the ball.”
Josh Williams led Robert Morris with 20 points and Thomas added 16.
Robert Morris: The Colonials made a game of it for the first 30 minutes but were unable to keep up as they shot just 34.3 percent from the field (24 of 70). They were 10 of 37 in the second half.
USC: The Trojans have won nine of their last 10 home openers but it took them awhile before they were able to take control of the game. They had 11 turnovers in the first half but just four in the final 20 minutes.
Kevin Porter Jr., who is USC’s first five-star recruit since DeMar DeRozan, had 15 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. Porter was 6 of 7 from the field and made both of his 3-point attempts.
“He was everywhere. He is going to be really good,” said Rakocevic of Porter Jr.
USC senior Bennie Boatwright did not play as he continues to work his way back from offseason knee surgery. The 6-foot-10 forward is the Trojans leading returning scorer (13.6 points per game) and rebounder (6.4).
“He has been through a long rehab but he’s close. He needs to feel like he can be out there and not worry about his injury,” Enfield said.
Robert Morris travels to Missouri State on Friday.
USC hosts Vanderbilt on Sunday as part of the Pac-12/SEC Showdown.