When the final buzzer sounded, USC men’s basketball coach Andy Enfield did not express much emotion, but as happy as he was to get a win he might also have felt a tad bit of empathy for his team’s vanquished opponent — a program he piloted to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament as a No. 15 seed in 2013, thus prompting USC to hire him the following season.
The Trojans overcame a shaky first three minutes to beat Florida Gulf Coast 71-58 Sunday night at Galen Center to extend their winning streak to five and give Enfield a victory in his first game coaching versus his old school, now headed by his former assistant Michael Fly.
“Good win for us,” Enfield said. “We didn’t play exceptionally well tonight. ... but I thought [an] 11-2 record would be terrific if we could get there. They made threes, hit tough shots, played hard and kept it a game most of the way. It’s nice to see a young team like them developing but we’re fortunate to put them away at the end.”
Once the game tipped off, however, there was no time for reminiscing.
“Our starting five had 16 turnovers and in college basketball today anything can happen,” Enfield added. “We didn’t take them lightly, we just didn’t execute. Michael [Fly] was my assistant, so it was great to see him. It brings back memories.”
USC ended its nonconference schedule at 11-2, its best nonconference mark since going 13-0 in 2016-17. The Trojans have won five straight games twice this season, the third season in the last decade they have had two winning streaks of five games or more.
The Trojans fell behind 7-1 with 17:37 left in the first half but Jonah Mathews hit a three-pointer to ignite an 11-0 run and a putback dunk by Max Agbonkpolo gave USC its first double-digit lead at 28-18 with 5:56 left in the first half. However, Florida Gulf Coast pulled to within 35-31 at intermission.
USC started the second half on a 9-2 run to take control, but it never led by more than 15 points. Forward Nick Rakocevic got his 25th career double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds, Daniel Utomi added 13 points, Mathews had 10 and Agbonkpolo and Isaiah Mobley each scored eight for the Trojans, who shook off some rust in their first action since a 70-68 triumph over LSU on Dec. 21.
“In high school I used to shoot threes, my stroke never left so I put in work to stay confident and I’m taking good shots,” said Rakocevic, who was seven-of-10 from the field. “Going into conference it’s about staying focused. Every game is a learning point, keeping our composure and discipline. All of these freshmen are extremely talented. Yes, we knew coach used to be there and all that, but we weren’t really thinking about that. It was more about getting this win.”
Kyle Sturdivant had four points and five assists in 18 minutes and Elijah Weaver had seven points, three rebounds and two assists in his 22 minutes on the floor. USC won the rebounding battle 37-32 and held a 28-24 advantage in points in the paint.
Sam Gagliardi scored 10 points, Caleb Cotto had nine points, seven assists and five steals, Dakota Rivers scored eight points and Brian Thomas grabbed eight rebounds for the Eagles (3-12), who dropped to 0-7 on the road. Leading scorer Zach Scott was held to six points — all in the second half.
Enfield began his head coaching career at FGCU, going 41-28 in two seasons. The 2012-13 team earned the nickname “Dunk City” after upsetting No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State to become the first No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16.
The Trojans own wins against Louisiana State, Texas Christian, Harvard and Nevada and their losses are to Temple and Marquette.
They begin Pac-12 play with three consecutive road games, beginning Jan. 2 at Washington State.
“Shooters are going to shoot, so you have to keep shooting and they’ll drop sooner or later,” said Utomi, who was three-of-seven from behind the arc. “We were a little short-handed tonight, so we had to step up. We have a lot of talent on this team, a lot of players who can contribute on any given night.”
USC played without top scorer and rebounder Onyeka Okongwu, who sprained an ankle in the LSU game. Enfield said his freshman star could have played if needed Sunday, but he didn’t practice all week and his soreness led to the decision to rest him for the conference opener.