Southern California’s Boogie Ellis understands the significance of Thursday’s semifinal against No. 22 Tennessee at the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas.
“We come out here and we win a couple games, we got a chance to make some noise,” he said. “Just (relaying) to the guys that this is a really important tournament for us to make a statement.”
Ellis scored 27 points and Joshua Morgan and Drew Peterson posted double-doubles as the Trojans (4-1) knocked off BYU 82-76 in the first round on Wednesday.
After leading 28-23 at halftime, Tennessee (3-1) dominated Butler in the second half, outscoring the Bulldogs 43-22 to cruise to a 71-45 win.
The winner plays in the title game on Friday night against No. 3 Kansas (5-0) or Wisconsin (4-0). The semifinal losers meet in the third-place game on Friday afternoon.
The Trojans extended their winning streak to four games by using a balanced scoring attack that included Peterson posting 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Morgan had his second straight double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
The Trojans limited BYU to 25-for-59 shooting from the floor, 42.4 percent. USC also held the Cougars without a field goal for a stretch of more than four minutes in the second half to take a 13-point lead and secure the win.
The Trojans shot 31 of 58 (53.4 percent), including just 2 of 10 from long distance, in addition to scoring 17 points off the Cougars’ 17 turnovers.
“We have an opportunity to make a statement,” Peterson said. “There’s seven other good teams here and it’s time for us to really lock in. It’s a big stage and national attention, so we’re going to be ready to go.”
Tennessee was ranked 11th to open the season but dropped 11 spots after losing to Colorado 78-66 on Nov. 13 before rebounding with an 81-50 win over Florida Gulf Coast in their final game before heading to the Caribbean.
“We’ve still got some guys that are trying to figure out certain things that they need to do,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “But we’re looking for consistency probably as much as anything and knowing what we’re going to be able to get night in and night out.”
The Volunteers had three players score in double figures against the Bulldogs, led by Santiago Vescovi, who finished with 13 points, while Julian Phillips added 11 points and six rebounds. Zakai Zeigler chipped in 10 points and five assists.
Tennessee went 26 of 54 (48.1 percent) from the field, including 5 of 15 (33.3 percent) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also outrebounded the Bulldogs 37-29.
“We do have a group of guys that want to be a good basketball team and they recognize that we’ve still got work to do,” Barnes said. “We think we have a team … capable of shooting the ball, but if not, we’ve got to be able to find other ways to manufacture points with what we can do inside.”