December 21, 2015 by Max Meyer
It wasn’t pretty on a late Monday night in Galen Center, but USC still managed to pull off a 70-51 win against SIUE 70-51 to move to 10-2 on the season. The 10-2 start is USC basketball’s best since the 2001-02 season.
With only one game remaining until Pac-12 play begins, the Trojans clearly have made significant strides compared to last year’s non-conference play. Tonight, however, wasn’t exactly a step forward.
One Thing I Liked: Block Party at Galen
USC’s defense has been much improved this season, and it’s largely due to its newly found presence in the interior. The Trojans had 10 blocks tonight, with Malik Martin swatting three along with Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu each having two.
“We got more experience and more length,” Nikola Jovanovic said when comparing last season’s defense to now. “We just feel more comfortable.”
USC now has 81 blocks on the season, which is among the best in all of college basketball. Even more impressively, the Trojans have been able to block shots without fouling often. After registering only 13 fouls tonight, USC now has the second-best block-to-foul ratio (.393) in the country.
“With the new rules, we’ve made a big emphasis of jumping straight up and leading with chest instead of your arms,” USC coach Andy Enfield explained. “We have some good athletes that can go get balls, and sometimes we don’t necessarily think it’s going to be a block, but they keep going and get a piece of it. Most of it you can’t teach. But we do work on some of the technique, and our players have responded and done well.”
SIUE shot a pitiful 19 of 68 (27.9 percent) from the floor in the game, including only 36.2 percent on its two-point shots. Last year, opponents were effective in the paint against the Trojans. Now, it’s a lot more difficult to get a bucket in close thanks to USC’s length and impressive shot-blocking capabilities.
And it helps start things on the other side of the ball.
“Some nights the shot’s not going to be falling, so you have to depend on your defense,” Jordan McLaughlin said. “With our system that we have, the defense most of the time sparks the offense. Chimezie, somebody will get a block, and that will start the break and help us get easy transition buckets.”
One Thing I Didn’t Like: USC’s Offense Without Julian Jacobs
Julian Jacobs was scratched tonight due to tendinitis in his left Achilles. While the Trojans did win by 19 points, it wasn’t thanks to its 36.9 percent shooting. The offense looked stagnant, and didn’t penetrate nearly as much.
“Our pace, it kind of slows down because it’s just me [at point guard],” McLaughlin said when talking about what USC misses without Jacobs. “I try to conserve myself a little bit, push it some possessions and slow it down on some, so that way I’m not as tired and can play as many minutes as coach needs me to play. He also helps dishing the ball out to people and getting wide open shots for everybody.”
Enfield said after the game that Jacobs is doubtful to play against Lafayette. It would be a big blow if he didn’t play, and USC will need to have other guys step up on offense to avoid a major letdown on Wednesday.
“Offensively, we struggled at times,” Enfield said. “Julian Jacobs is out, but that’s no excuse. Our wing players have to do a better job of making plays for teammates. And we have to make some shots when we’re open.”
There was one 13-minute stretch in the second half where the Trojans shot one for 15 from the field, which is simply inexcusable. Even though the shooting from the free-throw line wasn’t great tonight for USC (18/29), 13 of its 31 second-half points came from the charity stripe. Considering how ineffective the halfcourt offense and ball movement was for most of the night (only 10 assists), the Trojans are lucky SIUE couldn’t cut deeper into the big lead.
1. Kevin O’Neil was in the house tonight! USC’s former coach was calling the game for Pac-12 Networks, and offered a few words on the team.
“It’s hard to tell where they’re going to finish cause the league is so balanced, and you can’t really tell anything about anybody until league play,” O’Neil said. “But, their guard play is as good as anybody’s in the league. Bennie Boatwright is one of the best freshmen in the country, let alone the Pac-12. I think they’ve made a ton of progress over where they were last year.”
2. Jovanovic notched a season-high in points (21) and rebounds (16), good for his fourth double-double in his junior campaign.
3. McLaughlin played without a mask for the first time since suffering a broken nose against Xavier on November 27. He scored 12 points on 4/11 shooting, and had six assists compared to three turnovers.
4. Steals haven’t come as easily for USC as blocks have, but Katin Reinhardt had a career-high with five against SIUE.
5. USC’s game against Lafayette is at 7 p.m. this Wednesday (December 23) at the Galen Center, and will be televised on Pac-12 Network.