Chimezie Metu scored 27 points and Bennie Boatwright added 23 to help USC hold off Middle Tennessee 89-84 in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic on Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu
The efforts of the Trojans big men offset a 28-point, 11-rebound performance from Blue Raiders leading scorer Nick King.
USC, now 5-0 all-time in Diamond Head Classic play, will face the winner of Saturday’s Miami-New Mexico State contest in Monday’s championship game.
Middle Tennessee (8-3) held a nine-point lead at 54-45 on Tyrik Dixon’s 3-point jumper with 16:01 left in the game, but USC (8-4) ran off 10 straight points over the next 3:55 to lead by one.
The Trojans edged ahead 76-72 with 4:19 left and put the game away with two late 3-pointers from Shaqquan Aaron, who scored six of his 10 points when they counted most.
Behind King’s 14 points, Middle Tennessee owned a 43-42 halftime lead. The Blue Raiders led by as many as seven points before Elijah Stewart (13 points) made a trio of 3-pointers on the way to 12 points at the break. The last of those treys tied the game at 33 with 6:25 left in the half.
Metu paced USC with 13 first-half points, and Boatwright added 11, eight of which came on free throws thanks to aggressive moves to the hoop. All told, the Trojans stayed close with 15-of-18 shooting from the foul line. Middle Tennessee made four of its five free-throw attempts.
USC held a 22-12 lead in first-half points in the paint and a 14-2 edge in bench points, but the Blue Raiders earned their one-point edge at intermission on superior shooting, converting 17 of 30 field goal attempts to 11 of 23 for USC. Both teams were 5 of 10 from long range.
Jonah Mathews, who aggravated a left ankle injury in the Trojans’ 84-53 over Akron on Friday, sat out Saturday’s game with a boot on his foot.