The third season of Chimezie Metu's college basketball career hasn't been easy.
The gravity-defying USC junior wore a #FREEDMELT T-shirt for postgame news conferences to support close friend and teammate De'Anthony Melton. Metu assailed the school on social media when it decided to hold Melton out for the rest of the season in connection with the bribery and corruption scandal that has rocked the sport.
Metu was suspended for a half-game after punching a Washington State player in the groin. And a report last month linked Metu to the scandal before USC cleared him a day later.
But those problems faded into the background Thursday as Metu dominated USC's 61-48 win over Oregon State in a Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinal at T-Mobile Arena.
"I just think being able to face adversity and still come out every day to practice and every day to games and just stay focused on what we have to do as a team," Metu said of the season-long challenges. "I don't think — not just myself, but everybody else on the team as well — we all handled that very well."
The frustration that has been apparent in Metu's body language on the court at times this season vanished against Oregon State. Instead, the forward showed why he's expected to be a first-round pick in this year's NBA draft.
He showed off sky hooks. Back-to-the-basket post moves. Dunks that left the basket shaking.
"We tried smaller guys to keep the ball out of his hands," Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said. "We tried bigger guys. ... He's a tough, tough player."
Metu finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds — his 11th double-double this season — but a page of statistics is a poor way to convey the way he can change games.
Take the end of the first half. With a second or two remaining, Metu swatted a floating shot by Seth Berger into USC's bench. Metu — not known for hiding emotion — let out a long shout.
He has a knack for turning ordinary plays into demoralizing ones.
“I was picking my spots and my teammates were following me,” Metu said. “It was up to me to be aggressive.”
The rampage continued in the second half. On one possession, senior Jordan McLaughlin hurled the basketball three-quarters of the court, Metu snatched it in midair and slammed it down with two hands. He sprinted back up the court with a wide smile, then strutted to the USC bench after Oregon State called a timeout.
"We were just having fun," said McLaughlin, who added 13 points and steady play at point guard over 39 minutes. "That's what we talked about in the locker room. Go out there, play hard, play defense, have fun and play it like it's our last game."
Oregon State (16-16), which already lost twice to USC this season, shot a season-low 30.5% from the field during a miserable offensive performance. That’s largely due to a resurgent Trojans defense that has limited opponents to 42.9% shooting over the last 18 games.
And USC (22-10) managed to shut down Oregon State despite using only seven players, after redshirt sophomore Derryck Thornton sat out because of illness. He could return for Friday’s semifinal game against Oregon.
The semifinal game could go a long way in determining whether USC will receive a third consecutive berth to the NCAA tournament. Most projections have the Trojans on the bubble. Another win would be a significant boost to their tournament resume.
USC coach Andy Enfield didn’t want to discuss USC’s case for making the tournament, but made his view clear.
“We came in second in the Pac-12 this year,” he said. “Our RPI is in the low 30s. That’s enough said.”
Friday vs. Oregon, 8:30 p.m., T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas. TV: FS1 — USC is 16-17 all-time at the Pac-12 tournament, including one win vacated because of NCAA sanctions.