USC overcomes Josh Morgan injury to beat Washington State
Josh Morgan lay face down in the paint, his 6-foot-10 body writhing in pain. As USC’s lone big starter, Morgan and his insane length had been a crucial part of the Trojans’ plans to take action against Washington State, a team that poked fun at their defense just a month earlier.
But now those plans had had a wrench in their way just five minutes after Thursday’s matchup at the Galen Center. Now, with Morgan limping off the field and unable to put weight on his right foot, USC had to cobble together a new forecourt and rely on the rest of its lineup to crack down.
The Trojans would ultimately do just enough to slip past Washington State 80-70 without their big man; However, this particular win would hardly be the defensive statement USC was hoping for.
Winning his fifth game in six attempts would mean Washington State’s Mouhamed Gueye, who had a career-high 31 points, would survive an all-out attack on the color. It would require another outstanding offensive performance from its star seniors, with Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson averaging 43 points and strong overall shooting performance as USC shot 52% overall and 47% from the three-point line, a significant improvement from last time these two teams met.
Still, USC led by just three points and with less than two minutes to go when Washington State’s top scorer TJ Bamba fired from three-point range to level the game.
But his attempt barely went over the top when Vince Iwuchukwu, the Trojans rookie and Morgan’s direct backup, deflected the shot in midair and closed the book on Washington State.
Peterson did the rest, sinking a three on the next possession, saving USC’s recent advance from being completely derailed.
“We obviously missed Josh Morgan,” said USC coach Andy Enfield. “Without Josh, one of the best defensive big guys in the country, not with him to rotate around when you’re playing a special talent like Mouhamed Gueye, sometimes you need a bigger man in there. Offensively he had a special night.”
Iwuchukwu, who had only played five games this season, did his best to fill that gap, scoring five points and adding four blocks, two of which came late on for critical possession.
“Vince was great,” said Enfield. “He played very hard. He’s starting to get a good feeling, a good rhythm. It’s so hard for him, you go through what he did and then you don’t play. Forget the medical issue and talk about the lack of games. He didn’t have a training camp. No summer basketball. No fall. No skirmishes. We throw him into the Pac-12 game in the middle of the season and it takes time to get used to that.”
USC had hoped it could adjust after its loss to the Cougars last month. Washington State made USC pay dearly for their lackluster defensive efforts at their previous meeting by setting fire to the Trojans behind the arch. The Cougars hit 14 three-pointers to inflict USC a New Year’s Day loss that Enfield would later call USC’s worst defensive performance of the season.
His defense didn’t look much better early in Thursday’s game. USC was overwhelmed on the inside by Gueye, who gave the Cougars their first 11 points, eight of which came on the paint. He had 20 points before halftime and helped Washington State take a 13-point lead before USC finally woke up and delivered its own 17-2 run to reclaim the lead.
But it would lose Morgan, its starting center, to injury in the process. After landing awkwardly in the paint, Morgan could barely put weight on his right foot as he hobbled into the locker room. He never returned, leaving USC with an even thinner frontcourt than usual.
That left Iwuchukwu in his most significant role yet, as he shared the front spot mostly with freshman Kijani Wright and sophomore stretch forward Harrison Hornery. Iwuchukwu, still under a minute limit, had more than 17 minutes to play before Thursday when he played 22, the most important of which came when time was running out and Washington State was late.
With 1:35 left, Washington State’s Justin Powell drove to the tire only to be a block away from Iwuchukwu. Sixteen seconds later, the ball landed behind the arch at Bamba. Iwuchukwu was back to beat it.
“That block was great,” Peterson said. “It’s great to see how he’s developing.”
USC may need more of the same from its five-star freshman. How much more, however, was unknown as of Thursday night, with Morgan’s status uncertain.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/story/2023-02-02/usc-joshua-morgan-washington-state-recap USC overcomes Josh Morgan injury to beat Washington State