USC junior forward Nick Rakocevic headed toward his seat on the bench dancing.
As Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” blared in the Galen Center, Rakocevic waved his arms and swayed to the music, then plopped in the plush maroon chair on the sideline, high-fiving guard Derryck Thornton as the pair leaned back.
The starters on the USC men’s basketball team got some extra rest Friday night after building a lead large enough to propel the Trojans to a 91-49 win over Southern Utah, stopping a four-game losing streak.
It was a game the Trojans were favored to win, but another supposed sure victory had eluded them days before, in a double-overtime loss to Santa Clara.
The same starting lineup took to the court for the tipoff but the players were sharper.
They blew past Southern Utah on 53.7% shooting — an efficiency the Trojans had not reached since Nov. 25, shooting 55.8% against Cal State Bakersfield.
“That’s a key for us moving forward,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “In the games we’ve struggled offensively this year we’ve shot the ball too quickly… and we took tough shots. Tonight, we took good shots.”
Despite collecting just 14 offensive boards, the Trojans outrebounded their opponent for the first time since Nov. 20, by nine.
Rakocevic fouled out in two of USC’s four straight losses, but he led his team in scoring Friday with 21 points, 14 in the first half, and added eight rebounds.
Senior forward Bennie Boatwright notched 18 points and a team-leading 10 rebounds.
“He needs to be a playmaker for us,” Enfield said. “And he’s starting to do that.”
Southern Utah held the lead for just 25 seconds, pulling ahead 6-4 in the first minutes before gradually letting the game slip away.
The Trojans limited the Thunderbirds to six shots in the first five minutes but missed five of their first six shots; the lackluster shooting limited their lead to three points.
But with an 8-2 run over the next 21/2 minutes, the Trojans gained momentum. Their defense forced two traveling calls on the Thunderbirds and 10 turnovers. USC had trailed by 11 or more points at halftime in each of the last four losses, but by the time the half ended with Rakocevic dunking, USC held a 14-point lead.
In the second half, USC only doubled down its attack, starting with a dunk by Boatwright.
Seven minutes in, the Trojans took a 20-point lead while forcing six more turnovers.
After several games of finding themselves stuck in an insurmountable hole, the Trojans were the ones tacking on insurance points — 22 points with six minutes left, 39 with four minutes to play. They sank threes that brought the bench players to their feet, made fastbreak plays that electrified the fans.
Once the game ended, Boatwright remained behind, greeting a slew of young fans that had gathered around a corner of the court.
“It was lively,” redshirt senior guard Shaqquan Aaron said of the locker room after the win. “Everybody was excited.… Going into this stretch with the win, coming back on a positive note.”