The nation’s second best offensive team took the floor in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic Friday night, as the Oklahoma Sooners came into the game averaging 94.4 points per game, electrifying Staples Center as they battled against the No.25-ranked USC Trojans.
The Trojans never led during the game; but if there was a positive to take away, the Los Angeles school was mounting an 18-point second-half deficit and having a shot to win at the buzzer.
A Jordan McLaughlin half-court heave would not fall for USC at the buzzer, which ultimately resulted in a 85-83 victory for the Sooners, giving the Trojans their third loss in a row, making it the first time such has happened for Coach Andy Enfield since taking over the program in 2013.
“They never give up,” said Enfield who suffered double-digit losses to SMU and Texas A&M before their two-point loss to the Sooners. “Sometimes they don’t play as well as they should. Or could. But they have a lot of heart.”
USC outrebounded Oklahoma 45-32 being more aggressive on the glass, but also committed 17 turnovers compared to Oklahoma’s 11.
“It’s really surprising that we got down 18 points,” Enfield said. “But at the same time to have a shot at the buzzer to win the game, they deserve credit for coming back. But we can’t get down 18 points.”
Trae Young, the nation’s leading scorer gave the Trojans fits all night, as the freshman guard reached his average with a game-high 29 points, while adding 9 assists .
”Trae brings a skill that not a lot of people have,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. ”The players appreciate and recognize that and do a good job of playing off of him. You can run a lot of different things with the ball in Trey’s hands.”
Oklahoma ultimately made 15 shots from behind the three-point line, on 48 percent shooting, as the Trojans had a hard time on their rotations over the course of the game.
“We shot it very well to open the game and then continued that through much of it,” said Kruger. “Of course any time you can shoot around 50 percent, you feel good about that, we haven’t been shooting it as well as we can but tonight I thought we did.”
Young opened the game with a three-point basket that gave the Sooners momentum early, never looking back in the first half, leading 48-36 at the break.
Oklahoma’s Christian James added 19 points, tying his career-high with five 3-pointers and gave the Sooners its largest lead of the game, after making three-pointer with 16:43 to play, being up 59-41.
USC showed heart with a 22-8 run, closing their deficit to only 4, after Nick Rakocevic poured in a lay-up that made the score 67-63, with 8:02 to play.
However, the freshman player of the year candidate in Young, assisted on back-to-back lob plays. The first dunk was by James and second by fellow freshman, Brady Manek who added 15 points for the Sooners.
Young did miss free throws late with a chance to ice the game with three-seconds left and notably mentioned how that’s unlike himself.
“I have that Kobe gene in me, “said Young. “I mean we’re in LA, the Lakers Staples Center, I was trying to knock them down like Kobe does in this arena. I’m hurt about those free-throws for sure.”
Elijah Stewart scored a team-high 23 points for the Trojans, converting on 7 for 11 shots from beyond the arc.
“We just need to be a little more consistent,” added Stewart. “I know I’ve been have my off games, a few other players, we’re in the gym working but it’s just not falling right now.”
Coach Enfield also recognized how they are missing two key playmakers on the team, which in effect caused McLaughlin to take on 35 minutes, as he added 20 points on the night.
Point guard Derryck Thornton, who transferred to USC from Duke, missed his second straight game because of a shoulder injury, while De’Anthony Melton, the Trojans versatile sophomore guard and top defender, has been sidelined the entire season thus far, due to an investigation into his eligibility.
“De’Anthony Melton means a lot to this team, we don’t win 26 games without him last year,” Enfield added. “Derryck Thornton got acclimated to our system and was starting to play really well in practice and we we’re excited for him to take the next step, but then you know he gets hurt.”
The Trojans will now look to find some rhythm back home at the Galen Center, hosting Santa Clara on Thursday, the start of three straight home games.
The Sooners are in for a real test, as they will put their five-game winning streak on the line Saturday on the road, facing No.3 Wichita State.