The USC men's basketball team is off to its best start since the Henry Bibby era after beating New Mexico, 90-82, on Saturday night at the Galen Center. The Trojans have an opportunity to move to 4-0 before they travel to Orlando, Fla. for the AdvoCare Invitational tournament over Thanksgiving weekend where they will face Wichita State Thursday morning and then either Xavier or Alabama on Friday.
What to Watch:
Deja Vu - For the third time in three matchups with New Mexico, USC got off to a strong start. On Saturday, the Trojans produced the most first half points in the Andy Enfield era, taking a 48-31 lead into halftime. Elijah Stewart was red hot in the period, making four three-pointers to open his night before finally missing a shot. He scored 16 before the half on 5-of-6 shooting.
It was also the second time that freshman Bennie Boatwright has scored the first bucket of the game this season. He knocked down a 3-pointer for the first of his career-high 15 points. He also grabbed a career-high nine rebounds.
Finish What You Start - Elijah Stewart scored the first two points of the second half for the Trojans and after a Jordan McLaughlin steal and layup, USC had a commanding 54-33 lead. But Stewart went cold, not scoring again in the final 18 minutes of the game. USC still led by 20 points with less than seven minutes remaining until the Trojans gave up some open shots that allowed the Lobos back in it. New Mexico was able to battle back and cut the lead down to five points before the Trojans were able to close things out in the final moments for the eight-point victory.
The Trojans need to show that they can put their foot on the throat of an opponent after getting a big advantage. That's twice that USC has allowed an opponent back into the game and had to have some restless moments before pulling away in the final minute.
J-Mac Attack - When Jordan McLaughlin went down last season and had to have shoulder surgery, the Trojans were never the same team. He is the team's top playmaker, both creating for himself and for his teammates. He added some muscle in the offseason and worked relentlessly with the training staff to strengthen both of his shoulders that he has had chronic issues with.
Despite not playing at all over the spring or summer or even during the team's trip to Italy, McLaughlin returned in the preseason and has picked up even better than when he last played. Against New Mexico, he scored 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting, dished out six assists (to only one turnover) and had four steals.
"He is playing much more under control. His shots are better, shooting higher percentages," Enfield said. "He scored 19 points on 7 shots which is hard to do, and that is terrific offensive efficiency. Our whole team is performing that now and that is why we are putting up a lot of points.”
McLaughlin is averaging 20.3 points, 4.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals while only turning the ball over three times in the first three games. Combined with Julian Jacobs and Elijah Stewart, the USC backcourt is averaging 52.3 points, 17.7 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game.
FInding the Shooting Touch - One of the biggest differences for USC this season has been its improved shooting. The Trojans are shooting the ball with confidence and have improved their shooting percentage in each of its first three games, going from 48.7 percent to 50.9 percent.
Defensive Glass - If there has been one sore spot that the Trojans have to do a better job, it's on the defensive glass. Opponents are averaging 17 offensive rebounds per game, led by the Lobos grabbing 23. CSUN features three starters listed at 6-foot-8 or better, so USC will need to box out better tonight.
“That has been one of our main struggles all season," freshman big man Chimezie Metu said. "Even during preseason, coach has been getting on us about rebounding. It is a big struggle for us.”
Know Thy Enemy - CSUN is 2-2 on the season, having alternated losses and wins. The Matadors have been led by their backcourt of Jason Richardson, Michael Warren and Tavrion Dawson. All three are averaging at least 13.3 points per game with freshman Richardson leading the way at 16.0 points and 6.0 assists per contest.
Richardson had a big-time hoops father, but it isn't current 76ers shooting guard Jason Richardson, who is only 34, so that would make things a little more difficult. Instead, Clarence Richardson played basketball at Northwestern and the more high-profile relative is Jason's uncle, Eric Davis, who played 17 years in the MLB, most notably with the Cincinnati Reds.
Name Change - Previously known as Cal State Northridge, the school's athletic department rebranded itself last season as just CSUN -- the acronymn they were often called already. It has requested "please do not refer to the school as 'Cal State Northridge,' 'CS Northridge,' 'CSU Northridge,' 'CS North' or 'Northridge.'"
Last Matchup: USC won 95-79 on Nov. 13, 2013.
USC earned Andy Enfield his first win as a Trojan by dominating in the paint. Omar Oraby scored 17 points while Byron Wesley had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Nikola Jovanovic had 11 points in his Galen Center debut. The Trojans used a 26-7 run in the second half to pull away and shot 57.1 percent from the field.
The Trojans are 6-1 all time against CSUN.
Where to Watch:
Game Time, TV channel: 6:00 p.m. PST, Pac-12 Network (J.B. Long, Don MacLean)
Radio: ESPN 710 AM (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore)
Projected Starting Lineups:
G - Michael Warren (6-5 sophomore)
G - Jason Richardson (6-2 freshman)
F - Tavrion Dawson (6-8 sophomore)
F - Tre Hale-Edmerson (6-9 senior)
C - Olekan Aja (6-11 senior)
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 sophomore)
G - Julian Jacobs (6-4 junior)
G - Elijah Stewart (6-5 sophomore)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 freshman)
F - Nikola Jovanovic (6-11 junior)