LOS ANGELES (AP) — A poor week of shortened practices because of finals and an aggressive opponent nearly did in Southern California.
Byron Wesley scored 20 points, making a pair of go-ahead free throws with 1:02 remaining, and USC rallied to beat Cal State Bakersfield 63-59 Sunday night after trailing most of the second half.
“It was a real ugly game and we just grinded it out,” said Wesley, who had one point in the first half. “I learned we can’t take any opponent lightly. We need to come out in the first half and play hard.”
Nikola Jovanovic added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Trojans (7-3), who improved to 6-0 at home in their first game in a week. They have won seven of their last nine. Wesley made 12 of 14 free throws, with the Trojans hitting 30 of 46 from the line.
“We didn’t have more energy and we weren’t as fired up as we usually are,” Jovanovic said. “We had a hard week and we had so many exams.”
Issiah Grayson scored 17 points, including four of his team’s seven 3-pointers, to lead the Roadrunners (5-6), who out-rebounded USC 37-33. They lost their fifth in a row while playing the second of five straight on the road. He was their only player in double figures.
“We didn’t back down from them just because of the names on their jerseys. We played our basketball but came up short at the end,” Grayson said. “This helps us a lot. It lets us know that we can compete with any team out there. USC has a great team and it helps our confidence to know that we can play with teams like this.”
The Trojans made 9 of 12 free throws in the final 1:40 to tie the game and take their first lead since early in the second half. A pair by D.J. Haley — who was 9 of 17 coming in — tied the game at 58-all before Wesley’s pair when Brandon Barnes fouled out gave the Trojans a 60-58 lead.
“I thought he was going to make those because we had missed so many,” first-year Trojans coach Andy Enfield said.
Haley then made 1 of 2 for a 61-58 lead.
Tyrell Corbin missed the front end of a 1-and-1 before Wesley was fouled again. He missed the first and made the second for a 62-58 lead.
“Almost half of their points were from the free throw line. It’s always tough if you’re going to give that up,” Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes said. “But I thought our guys did a great job of hustling. I thought we did a great job of rebounding. In some of those, we put ourselves in a position where we had to foul them because of size.”
Grayson made 1 of 2 free throws to draw the Roadrunners to 62-59. Stefon Johnson’s potential tying 3-pointer hit the rim with 4 seconds to go.
“He doesn’t make all of his shots but if that happened again, I would throw it to him again,” Grayson said. “He’s just got to believe in himself that he’s going to make it.”
Bakersfield opened the second half on a 14-8 run, including 10 in a row, to take a 42-36 lead. Grayson scored eight straight points, including two 3-pointers sandwiched around a pair of free throws.
The Trojans answered with a 10-4 spurt that tied the game at 46-all. Six of their points came on free throws.
The Roadrunners regained the lead, 51-48, on five straight points, highlighted by Barnes’ block that led to Javonte Maynor’s 3-pointer.
“This was a terrible week for practice and hopefully it will be worth it with some A’s and B’s on their transcripts,” Enfield said. “Our players showed a lot of heart down the stretch when they had to make defensive stops.”
USC freshman Julian Jacobs came streaking in for a one-handed dunk on a fast break with 8:07 to play, but missed it and was promptly benched.
“He’s got to understand trying to do a one-handed tomahawk was not the smartest thing,” Enfield said.
A smiling Wesley added, “He may not be allowed to dunk anymore.”
The Roadrunners were 22 of 61 from the field, taking 25 more shots than the Trojans, who had a 30-24 edge in the paint.
“We’re not a talented team, and tradition tells us that we’re not going to go out on the road and blow out a Pac-12 team, so you’ve got to play close to the best to give yourself a chance,” Barnes said.
Enfield said senior J.T. Terrell, declared ineligible for the rest of the fall semester because of academic reasons, is a possibility to play Thursday at Long Beach State. Enfield said the decision won’t be made until grades come out early in the week.
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