LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bennie Boatwright is back in the lineup and that makes Southern California whole again.
The senior who missed the first two games had 16 points in the Trojans’ 95-59 rout of Stetson on Wednesday night. Boatwright shot 5 of 7 from the floor and made four 3-pointers in 18 minutes. He had last season cut short by a knee injury that required surgery and he toyed with leaving early for the NBA draft.
“It’s been a tough nine months not playing basketball,” Boatwright said. “It made me mentally strong. I’m going to stay even-keeled. Struggle helps you a lot mentally. When you go through things you have to find a way to get through it.”
Nick Rakocevic had 16 points and 13 rebounds — his third double-double in as many games — for the Trojans (2-1).
They started on a 30-7 run, including 14 straight points, and the Hatters (1-2) never recovered in a game played as part of the Hall of Fame Classic. All of USC’s seven players on the floor in the first half scored while the team shot 54 percent.
“We wanted to start off fast and we just had to maintain,” said freshman Kevin Porter Jr., who made his first start.
Christiaan Jones had 11 points for the Hatters in their first visit to California since 1995. They were just 9 of 34 from the floor in the first half and made just 4 of 22 3-pointers in the game.
“I just feel like we came out weak,” Jones said. “We missed a lot of shots, let them get a lot of opportunities offensively. We just weren’t there defensively.”
The Hatters gave up 90 points for the first time since allowing 91 at USC Upstate on Feb. 8.
“They had a lot to do with that,” Stetson coach Corey Williams said of the Trojans. “They’re a big, strong, imposing team. We just didn’t rise to the challenge the first half.”
USC began the second half on a 35-18 spurt that extended its lead to 74-32. Boatwright sandwiched 3-pointers around another basket. Porter punctuated the run with a one-handed dunk, drew the foul and made the free throw.
“Bennie got it going in the second half,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We need his perimeter shooting, size and experience. He looked like he was in control.”
Porter, the freshman five-star recruit, finished with 12 points, his third straight game in double figures.
“I tell him every day Showtime,” Boatwright said. “The sky is the limit for him. He’s confident in himself and carries himself the right way.”
The Trojans’ largest lead was 41 points with 2:55 left in the second half.
USC’s Elijah Weaver had nine points in his collegiate debut after missing the first two games. He had left ankle surgery on Aug. 30.
Stetson: The Hatters are putting up big numbers to start the season. They scored 116 points in a season-opening win against Johnson and had 66 rebounds (second-most in school history) in a loss at Missouri State. Their bench averaged 60 points in those two games.
USC: Getting Boatwright back is huge for the Trojans as they take a considerable step up in competition against Texas Tech on a neutral court Monday. The Red Raiders lost to eventual champion Villanova in the Elite Eight last season. That will be USC’s toughest game to date until they host No. 6 Nevada on Dec. 1.
USC G Charles O’Bannon had surgery on his broken left pinky finger on Tuesday and is expected to miss a month. He got hurt in practice three days after playing 10 minutes in the season opener against Robert Morris.
The game reunited a trio of former Florida State assistants. Enfield, Williams and Stetson assistant Bert Capel all worked together in Tallahassee before Enfield left to become coach at Florida Gulf Coast, his job before USC. Stetson backup guard Kenny Aninye and USC forward Jordan Usher were teammates at Wheeler High in Marietta, Georgia.
Stetson: Visits Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday as part of the Hall of Fame Classic.
USC: Plays Texas Tech in an opening game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City on Monday.
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