Trojans' second-half surge dooms Rattlers, 77-48, in season opener

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November 6, 2019

Onyeka Okongwu fell two blocks shy of recording a triple-double in his first collegiate game. He’ll have to settle for tying USC’s single-game record for blocks and a 29-point victory. The Trojans pulled away in the second half for a 77-48 victory in its season opener against Florida A&M.

Okongwu finished with 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 13 rebounds with seven coming on the offensive end, eight blocks and a steal in 25 minutes.

“That was pretty impressive. The eight blocked shots and the rebounding. He has a a natural gift of offensive rebounding. You turn your head and he's gone,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “He's relentless. It's his mentality and his effort. He's got some great skills, but it's really the mentality because I know a lot of guys just as athletic as Onyeka, but when that shot goes up, he's going to get it.”

USC only led 24-23 at halftime, but Okongwu keyed two runs in the second half that helped the Trojans shake off an inconsistent offensive effort in the first half to roll to an easy victory.

”We were our own worst enemy in the first half, but I thought in the second half our guys came together and played like a team,” Enfield said. “[We] just shared the basketball. In the first half, the ball was sticking, stopping. We had too many turnovers, not enough assists. In transition, we couldn't finish layups. We missed a lot of easy buckets around the paint.

“It was a little sluggish in the first half, but I thought our team played pretty well defensively the whole night,” he added. “We grinded it out. Eventually, we started making some shots and sharing the basketball. Overall, the second half was excellent.”

USC’s one-point halftime lead quickly pushed out to double digits for the first time a little over five minutes into the second half. Okongwu got the offense going with a bucket at the rim on USC’s first possession after halftime and then was set up by fellow freshman Ethan Anderson for a dunk the next time down.

The Rattlers hung around. They were down 10 points with 11 minutes to go, when Okongwu again carried the team to a big run with his all-around game. He scored six points, had a block and a steal as USC outscored Florida A&M 18-3 over a 4:22 span that opened the flood gates. Following the run, Okongwu checked out for good (sitting the final 6:57) with his team ahead by 26 points and got a loud ovation from the 3,021 fans at the Galen Center.

USC’s other five-star freshman forward, Isaiah Mobley, broke free after a scoreless first half to score 17 points and added seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. Freshman wing Max Agbonkpolo scored 10 points in eight minutes on a perfect night shooting, making all three field goals, including a three-pointer, and all three free throws he attempted. Anderson finished with seven assists, five rebounds and two steals while the Trojans’ other freshman point guard, Kyle Sturdivant, had four assists and no turnovers in 12 minutes off the bench.

”We got the first game jitters out of the way and came out in the second half and started hitting,” Okongwu said.

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