Jonah Mathews and Nick Rakocevic first crossed paths at age 16. They were just AAU players then, imagining how their college careers might unfold. They’re not sure whether they ever pictured this, though.
Mathews and Rakocevic both eclipsed 1,000 career points Tuesday night in an 84-66 victory over South Dakota State at Galen Center, becoming the 41st and 42nd Trojans, respectively, to reach the milestone. The seniors entered USC together, and they relished the opportunity to share the achievement together.
“Once we committed, we pictured doing something big,” said Mathews, who finished with 14 points. “It happened tonight, but we’re not done yet.”
Rakocevic paced the Trojans (3-0) with a career-high-tying 27 points, 16 rebounds and a career-high five steals. Mathews needed only five points to reach 1,000 for his career and did so midway through the second half, but Rakocevic needed 20 points and followed his teammate into the record books about three minutes later.
“They have a chance to do something special this year together: to be leaders of a team,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We have a lot of young players who look up to them, and if they continue to work hard and lead us, I think we have a chance to have a successful season.”
The Trojans welcomed the No.7 recruiting class in the nation this season. The talented freshmen stole the early headlines. Forward Onyeka Okongwu tied a school record for blocks in a game with eight in the season opener. Isaiah Mobley, his former Compton Magic teammate, was USC’s second-leading scorer after two games.
But when a competitive South Dakota State team that went 24-9 last season cut a 16-point first-half deficit to one in the second half, USC relied on its seniors.
Graduate transfer Quinton Adlesh made two three-pointers to lead the Trojans on an 11-0 run that pushed the lead back to 12 over the Jackrabbits (3-1) with 12minutes 5seconds to go. The run, which included Mathews’ jump shot that pushed him past 1,000 career points, took only 2:26.
Mathews scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half. He came off the bench for the second time this season after he was late to classes again.
Hoping to take advantage of its taller personnel, USC played with three post players on the court and fed the ball inside to Rakocevic. The senior, who had just 15 points and 11 rebounds in the first two games combined, is adjusting to the power forward position this season from his traditional center spot. The change sometimes lands him on the perimeter, where he is tempted to shoot ill-advised three-pointers. When he nearly lined one up Tuesday, the USC bench yelled, “No!”
He didn’t need any three-pointers to play one of the best games of his career.
“You see the result,” Rakocevic said with a smile. “I just got to stick to what I’m good at doing, and hopefully it makes us better as a team.”