Postseason basketball is a game of possessions. A few telling back-and-forths from a back and forth game, and it was USC who prevailed over Providence 75-71 in the First Four in Dayton.
The Friars struck early and built a lead that got as big as 17 points. Immediately after the first timeout of the game, Kyron Cartwright caught the ball on the top of the key, pump-faked a USC defender out of the play, sprinted towards the basket into a collapsing defense, jumped, twisted, and found Jalen Lindsey wide open on the wing for three. He made the exact same play again, starting about 10 feet to the left, with 10 minutes in the first half, where he found Lindsey for three.
With 2:24 in the first half, Lindsey caught the ball on the high post. Cartwright cut to the basket on the baseline, untouched by a USC defender, and received the pass from Lindsey. After Cartwright flipped it off to an uncontested teammate cutting through the lane, Rodney Bullock slammed the ball through the net as four idle Trojans looked on.
USC’s inconsistent 2-3 zone, which was abandoned for big stretches in the second half, consistently left Lindsey, the Friars’ resident sharpshooter, open before intermission; he took all of his shots in the first half from beyond the arc and made four of them. Providence showcased a 2-3 zone of its own that held USC scoreless for the final 4:30 of the first half. Providence was down 201-9 with 7:44 left in the half before a dominant run that escalated into a 15-point halftime lead at 44-29.
Bennie Boatwright, USC’s 6-foot-10 stretch-four, led USC on the offensive end with his smooth inside-outside game. He scored 24 points on 16 shots, and Providence found it difficult containing him on the defensive end. He often caught the ball at the top of the key and when the Friars played a zone he shot overtop over a smaller defender, he drove to the basket while the Friars were in man.
The script flipped from early in the second half. From the 15 to the 10 minute mark, USC went on a 13-5 run, led by stellar playmaking from Trojan point guard Jordan McLaughlin. With nine minutes left in the game, he split through the zone’s top two defenders off of the dribble and found Jonah Matthews open for three. The next time down the floor, he found forward Nick Rakocevic cutting to the basket. Rakocevic drew the fourth foul on Emmitt Holt and took Providence’s leading rebounder out of the game. The Trojans’ deficit was down to five.
The Friars countered, switching into man to at the eight-minute mark, but McLaughlin continued to impact the game. He made a floater, dished a running pass off of a drive to Chimezie Metu for an assist, and made another jumper that gave USC a 63-60 lead.
USC pulled away in the last four minutes of the second half. With 46 seconds to go and a five point lead, McLaughlin used a high screen on the top of the key, and barraled to the basket, drawing a foul and sinking a foul shot that gave the Trojans a six point lead. His late rebound off of a missed three by Lindsey sealed the deal for the Trojans.
The Friars end the season with a 20-13 record.