Men’s basketball gives up early lead in semifinal round

Redshirt junior guard Derryck Thornton dribbles down the court against Robert Morris on Nov. 6 at Galen Center. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

The story of USC men’s basketball team’s early season has been filled with first half struggles followed by impressive second frame performances. But it was the last 20 minutes that let the Trojans down in a 78-63 loss to Texas Tech in the semifinals of the NABC Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Missouri on Nov. 19.

The Trojan defense fell to pieces, allowing 55 second half points as Texas Tech shot 84 percent.

“We played a pretty good first half, we played very good defense, we shared the ball,” head coach Andy Enfield said to the Associated Press. “They did a great job of making open shots and they made some tough shots in the second half.”

USC hurt itself with five fouls and three turnovers in the first four minutes of the half. The Red Raiders took advantage by going on a 14-4 run to take their first lead since 2-0. The offenses traded blows from there until the Red Raiders took command with a 12-1 run to take a 64-53 lead with four and a half minutes left. From there Texas Tech coasted to the victory.

“I didn’t do a good job of coming out and helping the guys have energy in the second half,” senior guard Bennie Boatwright said to the Orange County Register. “We came out flat. They came out and made a run, and we didn’t do anything about it.”

The Trojans’ lack of discipline was a big problem – they committed 17 personal fouls in the second half, and Texas Tech made 18 of their 24 second half free throws.

“It was frustrating, because we couldn’t get the fouls ourselves,”  Enfield said to the Associated Press.

USC also had 17 turnovers in the game, giving Texas Tech easy scoring opportunities in transition.

But USC’s first half defense was stifling, allowing just 23 points in the frame. The Red Raiders struggled from the field, with a 27.3 percent mark on field goals, including 11.1 percent from deep. The Trojans were everywhere, contesting shots and forcing seven turnovers in the half.

The numbers would have been even better if it weren’t for a flagrant foul and a technical foul called against junior forward Nick Rakocevic. The flagrant came when Rakocevic hit redshirt senior center Norense Odiase in the face while posting up. Although it appeared to be incidental, the referees ruled it flagrant because Rakocevic extended his arm.

The technical came minutes later, when Rakocevic barked at a referee for a foul call after an attempt at the basket. Texas Tech made free throws as a result of these plays.

USC’s offense wasn’t fantastic, especially in the second half, but it wasn’t the problem aside from the turnovers. The bright spot was that the Trojans shot almost 41 percent from three, making nine of 22 attempts.

Their issues came inside the arc, despite a strong outside shooting effort. USC shot 44.2 percent from the field for the game and got to the line 12 times. The offense, which came into the game averaging over 85 points per game, will need to be better if the Trojans continue to underperform defensively.

“We’re going to learn from it, and tomorrow we just have to execute,” Boatwright said.

Freshman guard Kevin Porter led USC with 15 points, followed by Boatwright’s 14 points that earned his membership into the 1,000 point club on a three-pointer with four minutes left in the first half.

The Trojans take on Missouri State at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the consolation round.