SEATTLE (AP) — Southern California was doing just fine with Bennie Boatwright stuck on the bench as a spectator recovering from a knee injury.
His return after being sidelined for more than two months showed what USC could be the final month of the regular season.
Boatwright matched his career-high with 23 points in his first game since late November, De’Anthony Melton added 16 points and USC rallied in the second half for an 82-74 win over Washington on Wednesday night.
Playing for the first time since suffering a knee injury on Nov. 30, Boatwright came off the bench to spark USC’s rally from a 10-point halftime deficit. Boatwright made 7 of 10 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers. He also had four assists and played just 21 minutes.
“To be out for 10 weeks and to come back and do what he did in the second half is amazing,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “He just played a great game.”
Melton added seven rebounds, six assists, and six steals, and the Trojans (19-4, 6-4 Pac-12) shot 68 percent in the second half, winning their third straight and avoiding a lull after last week’s win over rival UCLA.
But Boatwright was the story. The return of the sophomore gives USC one more perimeter player, but also someone with size who can score on the interior.
Boatwright picked up two early fouls that limited him to just four minutes in the first half, but he played 16 minutes and scored 16 points in the second half.
“I wasn’t pressing. I was staying calm and just let things come to me. … I just went out there and played,” Boatwright said.
Markelle Fultz led Washington (9-13, 2-8) with 20 points, but the Huskies lost their fourth straight.
For the second straight game, Washington was unable to hold on to a halftime lead. The Huskies led 37-27 at the break thanks to a 15-0 run to close the first half.
But the Huskies gave away too many possessions in the second half. Washington committed nine turnovers and shot 39 percent in the second half, and had a scoreless streak of more than four minutes where USC went on a 13-0 run to take control.
Noah Dickerson had 17 points and nine rebounds and David Crisp added 16 points for the Huskies, who were mostly irritated by the flat effort to start the second half.
“We talked about (it) at halftime, guarding against that,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “This game wasn’t close to being over.”
USC pulled within 66-65 on Boatwright’s rebound basket with 5:12 remaining and took the lead on the next possession. Fultz missed a 3 and Boatwright beat the Huskies down the court for a layup while being fouled. The 3-point play gave USC a 68-66 lead, its first since 27-25 late in the first half. Melton added a jumper on USC’s next possession and the lead was 70-66 with 3:59 left. Out of a timeout, Washington committed its eighth turnover of the half and Jordan McLaughlin’s fast-break layup capped the 13-0 spurt.
Washington got within 72-71 on Matisse Thybulle’s 3-pointer with 1:47 left but Chimezie Metu scored inside and Thybulle rimmed out a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left that could have pulled Washington even.
Metu finished with 15 points and McLaughlin added 13 for the Trojans.
USC was the third team outside the AP Top 25 this week . But the comeback victory over the Huskies gives the Trojans a shot at entering the Top 25 next week if they can complete the sweep of the Washington schools with a win over Washington State.
USC: Boatwright made his first appearance since injuring his left knee just moments into the Trojans win over San Diego. Boatwright, who averaged 11.5 points as a freshman, was averaging 10.8 points before getting hurt.
Washington: The Huskies got just one point from their bench players and was outscored 20-9 at the free-throw line.
USC: The Trojans play at Washington State on Saturday.
Washington: The Huskies host No. 11 UCLA on Saturday.