LOS ANGELES (AP) — Five games into the season, the freshman and the senior have already developed offensive chemistry.
Onyeka Okongwu scored a career-high 33 points, senior Nick Rakocevic had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Southern California rallied from an early pair of double-digit deficits to beat Pepperdine 91-84 on Tuesday night.
The Trojans improved to 5-0 for the first time in three years behind Okongwu’s fourth double-digit scoring effort of the season and his first to top 30 points. The freshman went 17 of 21 from the free throw line.
“I love playing with Nick,” Okongwu said. “He takes pressure off me and I take pressure off him.”
Jonah Mathews added 16 points and Isaiah Mobley had 14 for the Trojans.
Colbey Ross scored a career-high 38 points to lead the Waves (3-2), hitting a falling-down 3-pointer with 20 seconds left to top his career best.
“It feels great to score a career high but we all made too many mistakes,” Ross said. “We proved we could play with them, but we had a lack of focus down the stretch and that was the difference.”
Kameron Edwards added 18 points despite four fouls. His brother Kessler Edwards came in averaging a team-high 17.8 points and went scoreless on 0-of-7 shooting in 32 minutes.
“His shots weren’t going in around the rim, but he’s been doing great things for us,” Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar said of Kessler Edwards.
The Waves’ three-game winning streak ended.
Ross’ 3-pointer drew the Waves within four to start the second half.
“Colbey Ross was just spectacular,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “He had shot-making that you don’t often see in a college basketball game.”
Okongwu and Rakocevic took over, combining to score the Trojans’ first nine points. Elijah Weaver hit a 3-pointer that pushed their lead to 56-46.
Mobley scored 11 of USC’s next 17 points for a 73-61 lead.
But the Waves refused to crash.
They ran off eight straight points to close to 73-69, with Ross scoring four points. USC extended its lead to nine helped by two 3-pointers from Mathews.
The Waves answered with three consecutive 3-pointers by Skylar Chavez, Ross and Edwards to trail 81-78.
Okongwu and Rakocevic finished things off for USC. Okongwu hit a pair of free throws before dunking on Rakocevic’s alley-oop pass. Rakocevic got fouled and made a pair of free throws that put the Trojans back up by nine.
“Their bigs were really good late in the game,” Ross said.
Okongwu has lived up to his early hype, although he doesn’t believe in it.
“I believe in having a good work ethic and good energy and good vibes,” he said. “It’s a grind. You got to keep going and keep working.”
Ross’ streak of making 32 consecutive free throws was snapped when he missed the first of two attempts late in the first half. He came up just short of the school record of 34. Ross missed another free throw at the end of the first half. He didn’t get to the line in the second half.
“I always get mad at myself for missing free throws,” he said. “I work too hard to miss free throws.”
Pepperdine led by 10 twice in the first half, including an 11-0 run.
The Trojans regrouped the second time they were down double digits to outscore the Waves 29-12 and end the half leading 44-37. Okongwu had nine points and Rakocevic eight in the spurt after he was limited to two points in the game’s first 10 minutes.
Pepperdine: Ross continues to impress as a junior after being named All-West Coast Conference last season. The guard is on pace to become the school’s all-time assists leader this season and the all-time scoring record is within reach as well. Coach Lorenzo Romar is in his second season in his second stint with the Waves. Last year he took them from six to 16 wins.
USC: After staying close to home early, the Trojans head to Orlando, Florida, for a holiday tournament and follow that with a trip to TCU. The trips will offer solid tests for the young team and prep them for the start of Pac-12 play, when the Trojans open with three straight road games.
Mobley’s younger brother, Evan, recently signed a national letter of intent to play for the Trojans.
The 7-foot, 210-pound forward is considered by many outlets to be the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit.
He was shown on the arena’s videoboard and Isaiah admitted to sneaking a peek.
“I’m proud of him,” he said.
The Waves outshot the Trojans in the second half, 53% to 48%, from the floor and the teams were even with 47 points apiece. The Waves had eight steals, two more than USC, and scored 20 points off USC’s turnovers. They were even in second chance points with 10 apiece. “I thought we moved the ball well from side-to-side and I don’t think they had their way with us on the inside,” Romar said, “but they made shots from other areas that hurt us.”
Pepperdine: Hosts Sacramento State on Saturday, just the Waves’ second home game in their first six.
USC: Hosts Temple on Friday to conclude a run of five of the Trojans’ first six games at home. They lost to Temple in the teams’ last meeting in 1994.
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