LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California has already proved this season it can win tight defensive contests.
On Sunday, the Trojans showed they can hold their own in a shootout too.
Nikola Jovanovic tied his career high with 23 points to lead four players in double figures and Southern California edged Utah State 89-84 for its fourth consecutive victory.
The Trojans (6-3) shot a season-best 50 percent from the field (31 of 62) including 12 of 26 from 3-point range. It was their first time crossing the 80-point threshold and just the third time they’ve scored 70 this season.
“We usually can’t score 89 points with no one guarding us,” USC coach Andy Enfield chuckled. “I was a little shocked we made so many 3s but we have been playing much better offensively lately. I’ve said previously we needed guys to step and make shots, and today all of our guys made shots.”
The 6-foot-11 Jovanovic was 9 of 11 from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers, and was the first USC player to reach 20 points in a game this season. Freshman Jordan McLaughlin added a career-high 21 points, making five 3-pointers, Strahinja Gavrilovic scored 13 points off the bench and Katin Reinhardt scored 11.
“We’re all just starting to figure out where everybody is going to be and getting comfortable,” McLaughlin said. “When you start having that connection good things happen.”
Redshirt freshman forward David Collette set career-highs with 32 points and 14 rebounds for his first career double-double to lead the Aggies (3-4). Jalen Moore scored 18 points and Julion Pearre added 15 for Utah State, which couldn’t hold a halftime lead and dropped its fourth straight.
“I don’t think either team feels great about their defense,” Aggies coach Stew Morrill said. “I know I don’t feel great about ours. They did what they needed to do when it was close as the end and we didn’t.”
Both teams came out firing in an 81-point first half. Collette hit his first eight field goals and had 19 points by halftime to help Utah State take a slim 41-40 lead into the locker room. The Trojans hit eight 3-pointers in the first half, including four by McLaughlin.
It remained close throughout the second half.
With the game tied 60-60 with 10:54 to go Gavrilovic exploded for seven consecutive points to start an 11-2 Trojans run, but the Aggies fought back to tie it at 76 with just under four minutes to play.
Jovanovic took over at that point, nailing the tiebreaking 3-pointer from the top of the key adding a pair of layups and in a 11-5 USC run to make it 87-81 Trojans with under a minute to go.
“I wasn’t doing anything special,” Jovanovic said. “I’ve just been working hard and today the shots fell in.”
USC held on from there despite missing six of its final eight free throws.
Utah State: The Aggies are now 0-4 when leading at halftime this season. … They are 3-0 when trailing at the half. … David Collette’s previous career-highs were 22 points and six rebounds. … The 84 points were the most Utah State has scored this season, but the 89 points allowed were also a season-high.
USC: Nikola Jovanovic entered as the only player on the Trojans roster who had scored 20 points in a game in his career. He previously did it against Cal on Jan. 22, 2014, when he scored 23. … The Trojans’ previous season-high for 3-pointers in a game was nine, accomplished against Loyola Marymount Dec. 3. … Jordan McLaughlin’s previous career-high for 3-pointers in a game was two, accomplished four times.
Utah State: Visits Utah Valley on Dec. 13.
USC: Hosts Army on Dec. 13.