Guard Kobe Johnson has seen his role with USC men’s basketball fluctuate at the beginning of his sophomore season. He was a starter the first few games, moved to a reserve role in the Battle 4 Atlantis, then back into the starting lineup as the Trojans began Pac-12 play. He could play 10 minutes as a starter or 29 off the bench.
But in Sunday’s 63-62 win over Oregon State, Johnson found the best version of himself. He scored a career-high 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting, and he stuffed the stat sheet with six rebounds, three assists and five steals.
“It felt awesome,” said Johnson, who will try to carry that momentum over Wednesday when the Trojans host Cal State Fullerton. “Just being out there, doing whatever I can to help this team win, that’s why I’m here.”
Johnson also provided production in critical situations. After the Beavers led by as many as 11 points, it was a layup and 3-pointer from Johnson in a 17-second span that put USC in the lead again.
When the Beavers retook the lead, Johnson tied it again with a 3-pointer with 2:42 to play. He then made a transition field goal and manufactured a steal that turned into points to put USC back up by four with 1:35 left to play.
USC head coach Andy Enfield said he was proud of how aggressively Johnson played in the second half.
“This was a big game for him because we have a lot of teams that are developing as players,” Enfield said. “He was role player last year as a freshman. He helped us. But he didn’t play 33 minutes like he did tonight. This was nice to see him do everything. He was our best defender, he had 17 points. He was an all-around player.”
Perhaps the biggest development for Johnson against the Beavers was the return of his 3-point touch.
He did not make a 3-pointer in USC’s first five games, going 0 for 9 in that stretch. But against Oregon State, he shot a season-best 3 for 4 from 3-point range.
“But I had people around me that kept the confidence in me to keep on shooting,” Johnson said. “So I just kept on shooting and it fell tonight for me.”
After starting the Pac-12 season 2-0, USC will turn to the always-difficult cross-SoCal matchup with the Titans. After opening the year 4-1 to follow up its NCAA tournament appearance last March, Cal State Fullerton has lost three in a row to Utah Tech, North Dakota and Seattle.
In their eight games, the Titans have had six different leading scorers, resulting in four players averaging double digits in scoring. Guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr. has been Fullerton’s most consistent option, averaging 14.3 points on 42.2% shooting while leading Fullerton with 3.8 assists.
Cal State Fullerton (4-4) at USC (6-3)
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Galen Center
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network/AM 790