The USC men's basketball team dominated every facet of the game and nearly every statistical category in an easy, 83-45, victory over San Diego at the Galen Center Friday night.
Jordan McLaughlin led the way with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and added five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Elijah Stewart recorded his first career double-double with 14 pounts (12 in the first half) and a career-high 10 rebounds.
Those looking to see how the two highly rated freshmen -- Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu -- didn't have to wait long. Boatwright made a three-pointer for the Trojans' first basket of the season and the first of his 10 points. Metu was a force in the paint with five blocks to go with five points and five rebounds in 19 minutes.
USC used an 11-0 run in the first half to take a 19-6 lead and never looked back, leading wire to wire with nary a doubt in mind. The Trojans outshot San Diego 47.8 percent to 24.6 percent and dominated in the paint. Not only did that have a 36-12 advantage scoring in the lane, they also won the rebounding battle, 55-36.
Duda Sanadze led the Toreros with 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
Here's three takeaways from the Trojans' win over the Toreros:
Playing With Confidence
From the way they carried themselves to the moves they attempted to the fluidity of their shot attempts, it was obvious that the Trojans are a much more confident team. That stems from the hard work the team has put in this offseason. Head coach Andy Enfield has said that each individual has got better during the offseason. That's typically coach speak and something all coaches with was true, but after seeing them in practice a couple of times and after a dominant blowout victory the likes of which hadn't previously been seen in the Enfield era, maybe Enfield is actually correct.
The confidence lynchpin is Elijah Stewart, who has taken his game to a whole different level. He has All-Pac-12 potential. He has increased his handle and has the ability to create off the dribble. He showcased a one dribble, pull up jumper that was creamy smooth. And then there's Stewart's raw athleticism that allowed him to block yet another three-point attempt, something he specialized in last season.
"He is a better ball handler," Enfield said of Stewart. "His is much stronger physically. He is a much better defender and he is much more confident."
But Stewart wasn't the only one. Malik Marquetti used a nice reverse pivot to free himself before sinking a baseline jumper. Katin Reinhardt unveiled a new back-to-the-basket game that can be an asset anytime he gets matched up with a smaller guard on him. Overall, USC just looked much more like an actual Pac-12 caliber team capable of playing with everyone and beating any team on a given night.
Whenever there is the evil of an opponent driving through the middle, like a caped crusader, freshman Chimezie Metu is liable of coming across the lane to protect his guards and keep the bad guys away from the bucket. The 6-foot-11 Hawthorne (Calif.) Lawndale product gives the Trojans something they haven't had recently, a superhero to the guards -- a true rim protector.
"Chimezie did what we want him to do, get above the rim," McLaughlin said. "It's a big help."
"He is an elite athlete. I think on the last one he got about two feet above the rim," Enfield said. "It is always nice a few times a game when you get beat and someone gets by you to have someone there who can change a shot."
Much Better Beginning
Elijah Stewart said that Boatwright and Metu played better than he did in his first game as a freshman. Even more important than that, USC won. Last season, the Trojans struggled turning the ball over too much to a veteran Portland State team that beat them in the season opener. Playing an inferior opponent, USC enforced their will and that started with McLaughlin at the point. He shot well. He made good decisions and he showed no ill effects of the shoulder injury and surgery that ended his freshman campaign.
"When I was out this offseason, I watched a lot of film and I figured out where I could play fast and play smart," McLaughlin said. "I have learned how to slow my game down and this offseason I got into the gym a lot and it showed tonight."
McLaughlin was in control all night. When USC needed to slow down, he was there to pull things back. When an opportunity for tempo was there, he pushed. And when he had a chance to score, the ball went into the bucket.
"Last year, we were young and inexperienced. This year we wanted to start undefeated, not defeated"
USC returns to action at the Galen Center on Monday night at 7 p.m. PST against Monmouth.