HONOLULU — Elijah Stewart scored 20 points and Chimezie Metu added 16 as Southern California pulled away to an 84-53 victory over Akron in a first-round game in the Diamond Head Classic on Friday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Trojans (7-4), who had lost four of six after opening 4-0, will face Middle Tennessee, a 69-67 winner over Princeton, in Saturday’s first semifinal.
Jordan McLaughlin made a pair of free throws with 16:16 left to give USC its first lead of the game at 40-38, and the Trojans punished two Akron turnovers with a pair of 3-pointers from Stewart, the second after a deft fake to produce an open look at the top of the key.
Jonah Mathews (13 points), back from a one-game injury absence (ankle), ran off eight straight points on two 3-pointers and a layup to put the Trojans comfortably ahead at 54-40 with 12:23. USC finished the game with a 30-13 run.
Committed to finding 3-point looks against USC’s 2-3 zone, Akron (6-3) hit four of its first 10 attempts from long range in building an advantage that reached 21-15 on Jimond Ivey’s layup with 7:20 left in the first half.
Two free throws from Metu and a three-point play from Nick Rakocevic made it 21-20, but the Zips closed the half on a 12-9 run to lead 33-29, aided by a Flagrant 2 foul and consequent ejection of Trojans forward Bennie Boatwright, who knocked Akron guard Virshon Cotton to the floor with 1:20 left.
Daniel Utomi had 11 first-half points to stake the Zips to the four-point lead. Rakocevic scored eight for USC, and Metu, saddled with two early fouls, contributed seven points in seven first-half minutes.
McLaughlin, fourth in Division I assists at 8.1 per game entering the tournament, had two at the break but finished with six.