November 14, 2017 / 7:29 AM / a year ago

No. 10 USC has to work hard to beat North Dakota State

No. 10 USC has to work hard to beat North Dakota State

LOS ANGELES — A special relationship blossomed for forward Bennie Boatwright, who scored a career-high 28 points in No. 10 USC’s 75-65 win Monday over North Dakota State at Galen Center.

That relationship was between Boatwright and the ball.

“Spalding,” he said, discussing his on-court “conversation” with the game ball. “That’s my girlfriend. Sometimes you’ve got to talk to her and make sure she goes in, because sometimes she doesn’t want to listen.”

The ball did not listen to USC (2-0) for stretches in Monday’s win, a sloppy contest in which the Trojans did not lead by more than five points until the game’s final three minutes.

North Dakota State (0-2) took advantage of dismal 17-of-31 free-shooting from USC, and the Bison used a methodical offensive approach to lead by as much as 10 points.

“They would hold the ball with their motion offense,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “Sometimes, they would shoot in the last five seconds of the shot clock. Then we’d go down and miss something quick and go play defense again.”

Freshman guard Cameron Hunter led the Bison with a career-high 24 points.

“It was my teammates: They told me to be aggressive, my coaches told me to be aggressive, and if I had an open shot, I took it,” he said. “It fell tonight.”

Despite Hunter’s hot hand, Boatwright’s interior scoring and game-high eight rebounds buoyed the Trojans through lulls long enough for Chimezie Metu and Elijah Stewart to chip in 14 and 10 points in intermittent surges.

Hunter said North Dakota State lacked the same level of aggression demonstrated in the first half coming out after halftime. Still, the Bison extended their lead to five points with 9:29 remaining when forward Deng Geu put down the second of two consecutive dunks.

Jordan Mathews connected on back-to-back jumpers — a 3-pointer and a long two — to force a tie at the under-eight-minute media timeout. The Trojans never trailed again, commensurate with USC switching to a zone defense.

“They’re long and their pressure can get to you, speed you up,” North Dakota State head coach David Richman said. “We lost some of our poise.”

North Dakota State built a 10-point lead in the first half, but USC whittled away at the deficit with a 12-2 run in the final 3:02. Stewart found guard Jordan McLaughlin in transition off a steal to set up a layup just before the buzzer, forcing a halftime tie.

McLaughlin finished with 12 points and a team-high four assists, and matched Boatwright with eight rebounds.

Jared Samuelson and Paul Miller scored nine and seven points, respectively, for North Dakota State. Tyson Ward finished with seven points, a game-high five assists and tied the game high of eight rebounds.

NOTES: North Dakota State led for 20:10, all in the first 30 minutes. ... USC shot 54.8 percent from the free throw line, its worst total since shooting 53.8 percent in a loss to Utah last January. ... USC outrebounded North Dakota State 41-30.

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