USC opens second half to blitz Akron 84-53.
HONOLULU (AP) — Elijah Stewart scored 20 points, Chimezie Metu 16 and Jonah Mathews 13 and Southern California rallied past Akron for an 84-53 win in a first-round game of the Diamond Head Classic Friday.
USC (7-4) overcame a nine-point deficit in the first half and narrowed the deficit to 33-29 at halftime. The Trojans emerged from the break on a 20-5 run with Stewart and Metu scoring 15 to put USC up 49-38 with 14:39 to play.
The Trojans shot 61 percent (17 of 28) from the field in the second half and were 27 of 55 (49.1) overall.
“If you play poorly enough long enough eventually you get tired of it, and I think our players got tired of playing below their capabilities,” ISC coach Andy Enfield said.
“And tonight they came out in the second half — really, we started to play better at the end of the first half — and played more as a team and in the second half we were terrific as a team,” Enfield said.
Stewart, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, shot 6 of 14 from the field, but made three of his seven attempts from beyond the arc, and was 5 of 6 at the free-throw line. He scored 15 of his points after halftime.
USC was 10 of 23 deep and 20 of 27 at the free throw line.
Jaden Sayles scored 12 points and Daniel Utomi and Eric Parris added 11 apiece for Akron (6-3).
The Trojans mixed up their defenses, but primarily utilized a 2-3 zone. Consequently, Akron shot just 32 percent (16 of 50) from the field for the game.
“We’ve been really good against zone up today,” Zips coach John Groce said. “When we have seen it, we’ve usually tore it up, to be honest. Today we weren’t quite as good. Now, what I will tell you is they’re very big, they’re very long and they cover a lot of ground in that zone.”
Akron: The Zips have yet to win a game away from their home court this season. All six of their victories have taken place at the James A. Rhodes Arena. Friday’s game marked their first contest on a neutral court this year. They have been outscored by an average of 22 points in their three losses.
USC: After dropping four of its last six games, the Trojans got back into the win column and just about emptied its bench in doing so. Twelve of their 13 players got in the game and all but one scored.
Akron went scoreless for a stretch of five minutes early in the second half, during which USC turned a four-point deficit into an 11-point lead. Stewart’s put back ignited a 17-0 run for the Trojans, which included three, 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, and came to an end with 12:56 left on Malcom Duvivier’s 12-foot jumper that pulled Akron to within 51-40.
“I think after that we got the lead, didn’t look back and it was smooth sailing,” Stewart said. “Everyone was hitting, we were getting stops, but it really started on the defensive end.”
STAT OF THE NIGHT
After committing eight turnovers that led to 10 Akron points in the first half, USC turned it over just five times in the second. USC scored 15 of its 21 points off turnovers in the second half.
Akron: Utomi, who has led the Zips in scoring in six of their nine games and entered Friday averaging 20.3 points per game, was held scoreless in the second half after recording 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field before halftime.
USC: Junior forward Bennie Boatwright and sophomore guard Jonah Mathews both returned from injuries that forced them to miss the Trojans’ 103-93 overtime loss to Princeton in Los Angeles Tuesday. Mathews shot 5 of 9 from the field in 23 minutes played and scored 11 of his 13 points after halftime, but Boatwright managed just two points in 13 minutes of action Friday before he drew a flagrant-two foul late in the first half that sent Akron’s Virshon Cotton to the floor, and was ejected from the game.
Akron, which saw its three-game win streak snapped, will take on Princeton in a consolation semifinal Saturday.
USC will play in a championship semifinal Saturday against Middle Tennessee, which has won six of its last seven games.