The announced sold-out crowd never materialized Thursday at Galen Center. But with a talent like Isaiah Collier playing, fans may soon flock downtown to catch a glimpse of the 6-foot-5 guard.
The top-ranked recruit in the country dazzled in his home college debut with 19 points, five assists, four steals and three rebounds in No. 21 USC’s 85-59 blowout of Cal State Bakersfield.
Yet the freshman brushed off the performance as “shaky.” He was bothered by his four turnovers — three coming on consecutive possessions in the second half that resulted in him being benched briefly — and defensive mistakes.
“We’re a work in progress right now, including Isaiah Collier,” coach Andy Enfield said. “He’s only a freshman and so we can’t rely on him to do everything. We have a lot of other good players on this team that need to step up and keep performing.”
Sophomore guard Oziyah Sellers had 16 points as USC had five double-digit scorers. Transfer forward DJ Rodman had 11 points in the first half, including three three-pointers, and finished with 15. The balanced approach took the load off of senior guard Boogie Ellis, who was quiet with 11 points and three assists while going one for six from three-point range.
Senior guard Kaleb Higgins led the Roadrunners (1-1) with 19 points.
Collier fueled a 12-0 USC run to finish the first half, scoring or assisting on nine of the points as the Trojans (2-0) took a 47-23 lead. He sank two free throws, dished an assist to Sellers on a three-pointer and poked the ball away from Bakersfield’s Naseem Gaskin before driving baseline and kissing a reverse layup off the glass that gently spun through the rim. It was just a precursor to his first-half finale.
Collier capped the scoring streak with a slick crossover dribble at the three-point line, driving into the lane and tossing up another up-and-under layup between two defenders.
Comedian Chris Rock stood up from his courtside seat and cheered. Collier shook his head nonchalantly toward the packed student section that was filled more than an hour before the game.
“It was great, definitely seeing a lot of people,” Collier said of the atmosphere at Galen Center after scoring 18 points against Kansas State in Las Vegas on Monday. “Hopefully it can be more when the season goes on.”
The guard from Atlanta could be the key to galvanizing a fan base that has yet to fully embrace the men’s basketball program despite its recent success. The Trojans are coming off a school-record fourth consecutive 20-win season, but averaged just the eighth-best home attendance in the Pac-12 last year. Thursday’s attendance of 6,211 already surpassed last year’s home average of 4,160.
USC’s other new star attraction sat at the end of the bench in a gray sweatsuit.
Bronny James, who suffered cardiac arrest this summer, is progressing toward a check-up appointment at the end of the month, his father, LeBron James, told reporters this week. If the results are positive, then the freshman from Sierra Canyon soon will join his teammates at practice.
James got loud applause when he was introduced before the game. One fan sat several rows behind a basket wearing a James Jr. No. 6 jersey. The freshman was one of four active college basketball players whose jerseys were made available with their names for the first time through a name, image and licensing partnership with Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods. The others are women’s stars — USC’s JuJu Watkins, Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.