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USC’s Vincent Iwuchukwu makes first appearance post-cardiac arrest in win over Colorado

USC’s Boogie Ellis drives as Colorado’s KJ Simpson defends during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Kobe Johnson, center, drives through the defense of Colorado’s J’Vonne Hadley, left, and Nique Clifford during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Joshua Morgan yells as he dunks over Colorado’s Lawson Lovering during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Joshua Morgan yells as he dunks over Colorado’s Lawson Lovering during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Joshua Morgan yells as he dunks over Colorado’s Lawson Lovering during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Vincent Iwuchukwu handles the ball as Colorado’s Lawson Lovering defends during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Colorado’s Lawson Lovering grabs a rebound in front of USC’s Vincent Iwuchukwu, left, during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Tre White shoots as Colorado’s Nique Clifford, left, and Javon Ruffin, right, watch during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Vincent Iwuchukwu handles the ball as Colorado’s Lawson Lovering defends during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. Six months after suffering cardiac arrest during a summer practice, the 7-foot freshman made his collegiate debut in a 68-61 win. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Vincent Iwuchukwu handles the ball as Colorado’s Lawson Lovering defends during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. Six months after suffering cardiac arrest during a summer practice, the 7-foot freshman made his collegiate debut in a 68-61 win. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Joshua Morgan yells as he dunks over Colorado’s Lawson Lovering during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Colorado coach Tad Boyle yells at the officials during the first half of their Pac-12 game against USC on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Kijani Wright handles the ball as Colorado’s Luke O’Brien defends during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Boogie Ellis (5) is fouled by Colorado’s Jalen Gabbidon, right, as he goes up for a shot during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Boogie Ellis (5) is fouled by Colorado’s Jalen Gabbidon, right, as he goes up for a shot during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Vincent Iwuchukwu, center, and Colorado’s Lawson Lovering, left, and Javon Ruffin battle for position during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Reese Dixon-Waters, left, and Colorado’s Javon Ruffin reach for a rebound during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Tre White drives past Colorado’s Nique Clifford, bottom, and Javon Ruffin, left, during the first half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Colorado’s KJ Simpson drives past USC’s Kobe Johnson, right, and Joshua Morgan during the second half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Colorado’s KJ Simpson drives past USC’s Tre White, back, and Joshua Morgan, right, during the second half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC coach Andy Enfield watches from the sidelines during the second half of their Pac-12 game against Colorado on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Drew Peterson drives as Colorado’s Tristan da Silva defends during the second half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Iaroslav Niagu, center, and Colorado’s Luke O’Brien, left, and J’Vonne Hadley, right, battle for possession of a loose ball as USC’s Tre White, far left, look on during the second half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Colorado’s Tristan da Silva drives past USC’s Drew Peterson during the second half of their Pac-12 game on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC’s Drew Peterson gestures as he heads down the court after making a 3-point shot during the second half of their Pac-12 game against Colorado on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC freshman Vincent Iwuchukwu looks on from the court during the first half of their Pac-12 game against Colorado on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC freshman Vincent Iwuchukwu warms up prior to their game against Colorado on Thursday night at the Galen Center. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

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LOS  ANGELES — Coach Andy Enfield walked in front of the USC bench as his team congregated for a free throw. He paused for a moment, hands on his hips, then turned and tapped center Vincent Iwuchukwu on the shoulder.

The freshman sprang up from his seat and headed to the scorer’s table, and many of the fans at the Galen Center rose with him to applaud, understanding the moment at hand. When Iwuchukwu entered the game, fellow big man Joshua Morgan ran to him rather immediately for a double, overhead high-five.

Six months after suffering cardiac arrest during a summer practice, Iwuchukwu made his collegiate debut in USC’s 68-61 victory over Colorado.

“It was amazing,” guard Boogie Ellis said. “I’m pretty sure it was amazing for him, too. It’s crazy.”

Six months after suffering cardiac arrest at practice, Vincent Iwuchukwu checks in for his collegiate debut. USC fans stood to clap as he made his way to the scorer’s table pic.twitter.com/mgsP5VZe2P

— Adam Grosbard (@AdamGrosbard) January 13, 2023

Iwuchukwu’s contributions to the game were limited to two missed shots in 4:44. He played two short stints, clearly not quite in rhythm or at full condition to make the contributions that were expected out of him when he signed with USC as a five-star recruit out of Southern California Academy.

He missed on an alley-oop attempt during his first three-minute stint, then dropped another lob later in the first half. But when that loose ball bounced out of bounds, the 7-foot-1 Iwuchukwu lunged in an attempt to save it. He was a willing screen setter and hustled up the court after possessions.

“I think he’ll just get better and better,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “He’s a terrific player, he just hasn’t played in a game in a long time. … I don’t think his cardio shape is as good as it will be a couple weeks from now. But it just nice for him to get out there, get his feet wet a little bit.”

Of course, there was the actual game going on around Iwuchukwu. USC (12-5 overall, 4-2 in Pac-12 play) jumped out to a 15-3 lead behind a hot shooting start and Colorado’s three turnovers in its first three possessions.

But after starting the game 8 for 11 from the floor, USC closed the first half with a 6-for-22 stretch. That allowed Colorado (11-7, 3-4) to come back and tie it up twice prior to halftime before an Ellis lob to Joshua Morgan gave USC a two-point lead at the break.

Colorado took its first lead of the game on a Tristan da Silva layup, then pushed the edge to four. But after a steal, Drew Peterson whipped the ball up ahead to Ellis for a tying layup and USC went on a 14-2 run to retake control.

The Buffs again stood their ground, trimming the USC lead to one with 2:01 left as the Trojans missed seven consecutive field-goal attempts. But a Peterson step-back jumper and a wild pass from K.J. Simpson – Colorado’s 22nd and final turnover of the night – closed out the USC win.

Normally, this space would focus more on the game, and Ellis’ 14 points and six assists, or Morgan’s 12 points and four blocked shots. But regardless of his minimal contributions, the night belonged to Iwuchukwu.

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He did not play in the second half as USC looked to secure the win. But his return brought some closure to Iwuchukwu and the Trojans after the medical emergency he endured and they witnessed this summer.

“I personally really liked how the fans really gave him a standing ovation,” Morgan said. “I know that made his first game back, he’s probably going to remember that one for a while.”

As the team went around the Galen Center sidelines afterward, high-fiving fans, Iwuchukwu stopped to hug family members in town from San Antonio to see him complete his comeback.

“He’s an incredible person. He’s been through a lot medically. He’s had so much support from our trainers, team doctors,” Enfield said. “It was really special. We were just so happy he was out there.”

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