The unbeaten run was fun while it lasted, but it's time for the USC basketball team to get back in the gym after losing back-to-back games to conclude the AdvoCare Invitational tournament in Orlando, Fla. The Trojans fell 83-73 in the tournament's third place game Sunday morning at HP Field House. Monmouth avenged its loss to the Trojans at the Galen Center two weeks ago thanks to another excellent performance from point guard Justin Robinson.
Robinson scored 27 points and broke former Kansas State star Michael Beasley's tournament record with 77 points over three games. USC held Robinson scoreless for the first 14 minutes of the game, but within two minutes of his first basket, he was in double figures. Robinson knocked down five of his nine three-point attempts -- two more than the Trojans hit as a team -- and also pulled down seven rebounds despite being the smallest player on the court.
Micah Seaborn added 20 points. Deon Jones recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He also threw down an emphatic dunk over Julian Jacobs with 1:43 remaining after USC had trimmed a 14-point second half lead to just three points. The Trojans cut the lead back to three points before Monmouth finished the game on a 10-3 run.
Jacobs led USC with 19 points while Bennie Boatwright finished a rebound shy of a double-double with 16 points and nine boards. Katin Reinhardt added 11 points off the bench while Darion Clark grabbed 10 rebounds in 14 minutes.
Here's three takeaways from USC's loss to Monmouth:
USC lost to the Hawks because of their inability to put the ball in the basket. What had been a strength throughout the season has been an Achilles heel the last two games. After shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 42 percent on 3-pointers during their five wins to open the season, the Trojans shot just 34.6 percent in the first half against Xavier as they fell behind by 27 at halftime. They started slow once again on Sunday.
They made 32.3 of their shots in the first half, including just 2-for-11 from deep, as the Trojans fell behind by nine points at the break. But unlike against Xavier, when USC battled back to a 10-point loss in the second half, shooting 54.1 percent, the Trojans struggled in the second half Sunday as well. They shot 38.5 percent from the field and missed nine straight three-point attempts until Jordan McLaughlin made his only field goal with 26 seconds remaining. For the game, USC was a woeful 3-for-22 (13.6 percent) from beyond the arc.
While 13.6 percent is much worse than 60.6, the second number is just as disconcerting since that was the Trojans' free throw percentage. They missed 13 free throws in a game that was a one possession game in the final two minutes. If they would have made six or seven of those, how much different would the game have been coming down the stretch?
Man Behind the Mask
One of the players that struggled shooting the ball was Jordan McLaughlin. After breaking his nose in the first half of Friday's loss to Xavier, McLaughlin played with a face mask for the first time in his career and it seemed to affect his shooting. McLaughlin was shooting an impressive 59.3 percent while averaging 16.1 points coming into the game, but he was just 2-for-8 with five points against Monmouth.
The broadcasters mentioned the potential depth perception issues that McLaughlin may have been dealing with while wearing the mask. Being on the road on Thanksgiving weekend, the Trojans probably weren't able to get a custom-fitted mask in time for the game. Instead, McLaughlin used a mask that seemed to throw off his shot. It was most noticeable at the free throw line where McLaughlin, an 86.4 percent shooter this season, missed all four of his attempts. He even airballed one free throw.
The Trojans need McLaughlin to be their primary playmaker and him being able to knock down his shots makes him that much more dangerous, so they need him to get back to normal before the next game.
While Jordan McLaughlin may have a reason for his poor play, there's no excuse for Nikola Jovanovic. Against a team that he had 20 points and 12 rebounds against just two weeks ago, Jovanovic was 1-for-6 with four points and four rebounds. He turned the ball over three times and got his shot swatted more times than he put it in the basket.
One of those blocked shots showcased one of Jovanovic's biggest struggles. After Julian Jacobs blocked a shot at the other end and got the ball back on the fast break, he fed a crisp pass to Jovanovic streaking down the lane. But with a step on the defense, instead of going up strong and flushing the ball with a jam, Jovanovic tried to lay the ball up left handed and had it blocked from behind.
After getting back to Galen Center for some needed shooting practice, USC will go back on the road on Thursday. The Trojans will play their first true road game on Thursday when they travel to UC Santa Barbara (2-3) with tip off scheduled for 7 p.m. PST. The Gauchos are 0-3 against the Pac-12 this season, losing to Cal, Oregon State and falling to Arizona State Sunday afternoon.