LOS ANGELES — Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin hit the decisive shot in the second overtime and recorded 26 points and 13 assists as Southern California escaped with a 103-98 victory over UNC Asheville in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday.
Sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic scored 24 points and collected a career-best 19 rebounds for the top-seeded Trojans (24-11), who were angry about being snubbed for the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Elijah Stewart added 22 points and freshman forward Jordan Usher scored 13 as USC won for the seventh time in the past nine games.
Sophomore forward Jonathan Baehre had career highs of 28 points and 14 rebounds and matched his career best of five blocks for eighth-seeded UNC Asheville (21-13). Sophomore guard MaCio Teague scored 26 points, senior guard Raekwon Miller added 16 points and eight assists, senior guard Ahmad Thomas had 13 points and four steals, and senior guard Kevin Vannatta had 11 points.
Thomas ended the night with 251 career steals, breaking the Asheville record set by J.P. Primm (248 from 2008-12).
The Trojans next face Western Kentucky, which defeated Boston College in its first-round contest.
USC played without junior forward Chimezie Metu, as the team’s leading scorer (15.7) and rebounder (7.4) chose not to play to protect his NBA draft status.
“Chimezie Metu has made a personal decision not to participate in the NIT as a precautionary measure to eliminate the risk of injury leading up to the NBA Draft,” Trojans coach Andy Enfield said in a prepared statement.
The Trojans felt they were solidly in the NCAA Tournament before being passed over on Selection Sunday, but they had their hands full with the Bulldogs of the Big South.
Asheville held a 95-94 lead after an acrobatic shot by Vannatta with 1:03 left in the second overtime before McLaughlin’s key 15-foot jumper with 35.7 seconds left. Stewart converted a three-point play with 6.8 seconds remaining to make it a four-point margin as USC held on.
McLaughlin was also clutch at the end of regulation as he made two free throws with 25.1 seconds left to tie the score at 70. Thomas missed a jumper at the buzzer for the Bulldogs.
Baehre made three 3-pointers in the first 85 seconds of the first overtime as Asheville opened up a 79-74 lead. USC later went ahead 82-81 on a 3-pointer by Stewart with 1:43 remaining, but Baehre got free for a dunk with 34.5 seconds left and Teague added two free throws to give Asheville a three-point lead.
McLaughlin was at it again, knocking down a tying 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left to force a second overtime.
USC shot 57.1 percent from the field while taking a 39-34 halftime lead. The Trojans wound up outshooting the Bulldogs 51.3 percent to 46.7 percent for the game.