Lewis defense too much for USC in NCAA Tournament opening round

Photo by Jonathan Bates

There was just no getting around the Lewis block.

Lewis finished with a season-high 17.5 blocks as it defeated USC 20-25, 25-18, 25-19, 25-23 in the NCAA Tournament opening round on Tuesday in Long Beach, California.

Middle attacker TJ Murray in the victory led all players with 10 blocks. This also was the third-most blocks during a NCAA Tournament match in the 25-point rally scoring era.

Murray was one of four Flyers with at least five blocks as the team out-hit USC .289 to .238. Opposite Mitch Perinar had seven blocks, while All-American setter Matt Yoshimoto and All-American outside attacker Ryan Coenen each contributed five blocks in the victory against the Trojans.

Along with the team’s front-row defense, libero Michael Simmons set a NCAA Tournament record for a four-game match with 17 digs. Coenen also had 11 digs to help the Flyers’ extend their winning streak to eight matches.

Lewis following this victory will advance to play the No. 1 overall seed Hawai’i in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Friday.

Both Coenen and Perinar led Lewis offense that had more than .350 attack percentage in two of the four games against USC.

Coenen finished with a match-high 18 kills. In addition, Perinar added 13 kills while hitting .393.

USC despite the loss had three players with at least 15 kills, including outside attacker Gianluca Grasso who had a team-high 16 kills. Both outside attacker Jack Wyett and opposite Ryan Moss each contributed 15 kills against the Flyers.

USC in the fourth game rallied from a 14-10 deficit and led 22-20. However, the Flyers rebounded and closed out the match on a 5-1 run including back-to-back blocks to win the match.

Coenen had four kills early in the third game as part of a 8-3 run start the game. The All-American finished the game with seven kills and added two blocks to give the Flyers a one-game lead.

With the second game tied at 7-7, a USC attack error gave Lewis its first lead of the match. That also started a 6-1 run that featured two blocks and a kill from Perinar.

Perinar led all players with four kills and zero attack errors in the Flyers’ seven-point second game victory.

USC opened the match on a 4-1 run and never relinquish the lead through the game. Grasso had a game-high five kills on a .440 attack percentage in the opening, while Wyett and Moss each had four kills. The three pin-hitters also had one combined error in the game.

USC was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012 when it reached the finals. The Trojans won 11 of their 14 matches during the second half of the season to earn the final at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Lewis is returning to the NCAA Tournament semifinals for the third time this decade.