November 21, 2015 by Jacob Freedman
It got a bit close for comfort, but the Trojans used lights-out shooting in the first half (56.3 percent) to go up big on New Mexico, then held on for a 90-82 win at the Galen Center Saturday night. The Trojans led 74-53 with 7:42 left, but the Lobos’ turned on the switch from behind the arc (10-of-18 in the second half) to cut it down to 87-82 in the final minute. Sophomore point guard Jordan McLaughlin led USC with 19 points and six assists, sophomore forward Elijah Stewart had 18 and freshman forward Bennie Boatwright had a career-high 15 points and nine rebounds. USC is now 3-0 for the first time since the 2000-01 team that made the Elite 8. Here’s what we learned from the W:
Metu’s Your Daddy
USC’s pregame intro song is Drake & Future’s “Jumpman,” and no one fits the song title better than the wiry 6-foot-11 freshman forward. Metu was a pogo stick in the post against the Lobos, blocking five shots and altering even more. He goes for big plays, and doesn’t have a 100 percent hit rate as his leaping past Lobos gave the visitors a couple of easy layups early on. However, Metu is fearless down low and able to stretch the floor, fitting right into Andy Enfield’s frenetic paced-system and likely earning himself more minutes going forward.
READ MORE: USC Starts Off This Season On The Right Foot
A New Motto
USC’s team motto this season is “Play fast, play smart and play unselfish.” Saturday’s game checked all three boxes.
Fast: The Trojans raced off to a 48-31 lead at halftime, outscoring New Mexico 9-0 on fast break points. While the game slogged late as USC became well-acquainted with the free throw line, the Trojans clearly set the pace early and forced New Mexico to keep up all game long.
Smart: Trojans committed a season-low 11 turnovers and saw less forced shots than we’ve become accustomed to in Enfield’s first two seasons. The Trojans shot 50.9 percent from the floor, with Jordan McLaughlin’s team-high 19 points on seven shots serving as a praise-worthy example. “That’s terrific offensive efficiency,” Andy Enfield said on the sophomore guard’s night. “Our whole team’s doing that now, and that’s why we’re putting up a lot more points
Unselfish: USC had a season-high 21 assists, with McLaughlin notching six and Jacobs dishing out five. While USC has a slew of long-distance shooters in Stewart, (4-of-7 tonight on 3s tonight) Boatwright (4-of-9), Reinhardt and McLaughlin himself (2-of-4), the Trojans saw few Isos and instead used an inside-out attack to find open threes while also enlisting Metu and Nikola Jovanovic to hammer away in the post. The reduced shot clock in men’s college basketball (now 30 seconds) is having a big impact on the Trojans, preventing drawn-out possessions that result in low-percentage shots.
Elijah’s All Right
Elijah Stewart’s 27-point outing in USC’s comeback win over Arizona State in last March’s Pac-12 Tournament was no mirage. The sophomore is turning into quite the scorer, as he hit his first four three-pointers tonight en route to 16 first half points. The most impressive play of his was right before the end of the opening half, where he dribbled onto the right side and drew a foul on his three-point attempt with 2.1 seconds to go. New Mexico coach Craig Neal could do nothing but throw his hands in the air as Stewart gave his Trojans the momentum heading into halftime.
Stewart left for a few minutes midway through the second half after colliding with a Lobo on the fast break. He was down for a little bit before being helped up by the ref, but stretched on the sideline and returned a few minutes later. “He’s a Trojan warrior,” Jacobs said after the game. “He’s alright. He’ll be fine. Knock on wood. Somebody knock on wood for me.”
What To Work On
New Mexico used a three-point barrage to slice USC’s 21-point lead down to five late. The Lobos pressure didn’t cause a ton of turnovers, but it did seem to throw the Trojans off guard on offense. “The ball was sticking,” Jacobs said on the Trojans slowing down late. “We didn’t have much ball movement. We weren’t making the extra pass like we did in the first half.”
The Trojans were also burned on the offensive boards, with New Mexico’s Tim Williams gobbling up nine offensive rebounds en route to a 25-15 line. Enfield mentioned weak-side rebounding as the culprit for New Mexico’s 23 offensive boards, with boxing out arising an issue to improve on.
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