LOS ANGELES (AP) Nikola Jovanovic was nearly the goat.
Instead, Southern California’s sophomore forward became the hero.
Jovanovic had 13 points, 11 rebounds and game-saving block in the final seconds and USC held off a late rally to beat Cal State Fullerton 53-49 on Tuesday night.
Article continues below ...
”Nikola played a very good defensive game,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. ”He challenged shots and made some big plays. We expect that every game from him.”
With the Trojans (3-3) up 51-49 with 18 seconds to go, Jovanovic stepped to the free throw line with a chance to ice it but instead missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Titans (1-3) a chance to tie.
Fullerton guard Lanerryl Johnson raced down the court and drove for the tying layup, but the 6-foot-11 Jovanovic swatted the ball as it left the 6-foot-1 Johnson’s hand with nine seconds to go.
Julian Jacobs picked up the loose ball, sprinted back the other way and threw down an emphatic one-handed dunk in the final seconds to secure USC’s win.
”I just needed to gather myself and make a defensive stop to win this game,” Jovanovic said. ”Truthfully I wasn’t satisfied with my offense or my defense. I need to keep working.”
The block was Jovanovic’s fourth of the game.
”He did a great job blocking shots without fouling,” Enfield said. ”This was probably his best game overall because he played so hard.”
Forward Darion Clark added 10 points and a career-high 14 rebounds for his first career double-double, along with three blocks and three assists, for the Trojans.
Johnson scored career-high 21 points with five 3-pointers to lead the Titans.
Both teams shot under 40 percent. The Trojans were 23 of 59 from the field (39 percent) while the Titans had nearly as many turnovers (17) as made field goals (18).
”We were way out of sorts,” Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor said. ”We have to get back to the drawing board and figure out what’s going on. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win.”
The poor shooting helped keep the game closer than it maybe should have been.
The Trojans led 37-21 in the second half but suddenly went cold as the Titans chipped away and cut USC’s lead to 44-42 with five minutes to go
The back-and-forth continued until it was 51-49 with 1:33 to go, and neither team could add to its point total despite multiple opportunities. Fullerton missed three shots to either tie or take the lead around the 30 second mark, and it came down to Jovanovic’s block in the final seconds and Jacobs’ dunk to secure the win.
”It was a tough game,” Clark said. ”We started off well but we have to finish better.”
”I don’t know what to say. It’s difficult to watch. I know the guys are trying but we need people to step up.” – USC coach Andy Enfield on his team’s shooting.
Cal State Fullerton: Leading scorer Moses Morgan was held to 10 points on 4 of 16 shooting. Second-leading scorer Alex Harris had just two points on 1 of 9 shooting. They entered averaging 16.3 and 15.0 points, respectively..The Titans dropped to 0-5 all-time against USC dating back to 2002.
USC: The Trojans outscored the Titans 32-18 in the paint and had five dunks.They have alternated wins and losses every game this season.Freshman forward Malik Martin was diagnosed with a bone contusion in his right knee and is week-to-week. He suffered the injury Nov. 21 against Drexel and had an MRI on Monday.
Cal State Fullerton: Plays Wright State on Thursday in the Spartanburg (S.C.) Marriott Upstate Classic.