USC is preparing to play its remaining games in the National Invitation Tournament without leading scorer Chimezie Metu.
Metu told coaches and teammates before an opening-round victory over North Carolina Asheville that he would not play in the tournament to avoid injury as he prepares for the NBA draft.
“We support him through everything even though not everybody might agree with it,” sophomore guard Jonah Mathews said Sunday after practice.
The Trojans (24-11), a No. 1 seed, needed double overtime to defeat eighth-seeded UNC Asheville 103-98 last week. USC will play fourth-seeded Western Kentucky (25-10) in a second-round game Monday at the Galen Center.
Sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic said the Trojans were confident they could advance despite playing without Metu, who averaged 15.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
“Obviously he’s a really big part of our team so it’s tough not having him,” said Rakocevic, who scored 24 points and had 19 rebounds against UNC Asheville. “But I mean we still have Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart.”
McLaughlin is averaging 12.8 points and 7.6 assists per game. Stewart is averaging 11.5 points.
Metu, who is projected as a potential first-round pick, defended his decision on social media last week in a since-deleted post.
“To all the angry USC ‘fans’ out there,” Metu wrote, “I know you’re mad I didn’t play tonight but I’m asking you to please keep the insults to a minimum and not judge me off a cautious decision that I made about my future but rather by the 3 years of hard work and dedication that I gave to USC.”
Coach Andy Enfield said that he supported Metu.
“He’s made a lot of important decisions over the last three years here and he’s done extremely well in the classroom and on the basketball court,” Enfield said. “So we respect him and this is his decision.”
USC UP NEXT
vs. Western Kentucky
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Galen Center.
On the air: TV: ESPN2; Radio: 710.
Update: USC has won seven of its last nine games. The Trojans are playing in the NIT without leading scorers Metu and Bennie Boatwright, who averaged 13.6 points, but suffered a season-ending knee injury last month. Western Kentucky finished third in the Conference USA season standings before defeating Boston College in the opening round of the NIT. Justin Johnson leads Western Kentucky, averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. The winner of Monday’s game will face the winner of the Stanford-Oklahoma State game.