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USC’s Vincent Iwuchukwu steps up in win over Washington State

LOS ANGELES — When USC center Joshua Morgan left the first half of Thursday’s game against Washington State with a foot injury, the Trojans were presented with a conundrum. Beside an array of unreliable post options was freshman Vincent Iwuchukwu. Seven games into his comeback after undergoing cardiac arrest over the summer, Iwuchukwu remains on a minutes restriction and it was unclear how much he could help.

But the center played a career-high 22 minutes and blocked four shots, none bigger than a second effort attempt to block a 3-point attempt after being pump-faked. After a transition dunk with 37 seconds left, Iwuchukwu left for the bench, exhausted and breathing deeply after helping the Trojans close out an 80-70 win.

The Trojans were in total disarray to begin the game. Mouhamed Gueye scored Washington State’s first 11 points as the Cougars got what they wanted, either on trips to the rim or on kickouts to shooters. The USC half-court defense was such a mess that the Trojans attempted a full-court press, only for it to result in an open corner 3-pointer for WSU.

To make matters worse, Morgan came down awkwardly on his right foot while contesting a shot and had to hop off the court, not to return to the game.

But the tide began to turn with an innocent Reese Dixon-Waters jumper. Drew Peterson followed with his own fadeaway, then a Dixon-Waters steal resulted in a two-handed Tre White dunk, and USC had life.

After missing his first four shots, Boogie Ellis hit a 3-pointer. All he needed was to see the ball go through the basket. After a Cougars travel, Ellis threw a lob for another White dunk, then hit an NBA-distance 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one.

On the next possession, Peterson stepped back into a 3-pointer that swished through the net, and the Trojans had retaken a 30-28 lead, going on to close the half with a two-point edge after holding the visitors to 2-for-12 shooting across the last nine minutes.

The teams traded shots in the second half, which featured six lead changes and two ties. When Carlos Rosario dove to tip the ball to Justin Powell for a third-chance 3-pointer and a two-point Washington State lead with 4:23 left, it was fair to wonder if USC had enough gas left to close the game.

But USC closed on a 17-5 run, knocking down its free throws while Iwuchukwu put together his first signature moment at Galen Center while finishing a team-high plus-13.

More to come on this story.

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