The USC Trojans can score in bunches and that's what they did in a 100-64 win against Lafayette on Wednesday night at the Galen Center. They scored 55 second half points to hit the 100-point mark for the third time this season -- the first time that has been accomplished since 1991 -- and improve to 11-2 on the season.
Elijah Stewart and Katin Reinhardt led the way scoring, putting up 27 and 26 points, respectively. But it was Jordan McLaughlin that set everything up. He set a school record with 16 assists. He also scored 14 points and had eight rebounds. Chimezie Metu made his first career start and produced his best performance as a Trojan, scoring 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting. He also grabbed eight rebounds. Nikola Jovanovic scored 12 points and had eight boards.
USC scored the first 11 points of the second half and finished on an even bigger flurry, closing out the game on an 18-2 run. The Trojans shot 54.7 percent for the game and an outstanding 61.9 percent (13-for-21) from deep. The Leopards (3-8) just couldn't keep up as they shot just 36.1 percent, including 9-for-28 on three-point attempts.
"Their size and athleticism wore us down in the second half," Lafayette head coach Fran O'Hanlon said. "We didn't have the same kinds of athletes as they did."
Nick Linder was the only Leopard in double figures. He scored 17 points on 7-for-16 shooting.
Here's three takeaways from USC's win over Lafayette at the Galen Center on Wednesday:
For three weeks, Jordan McLaughlin didn't look like Jordan McLaughlin. His physical appearance was different after he had his nose broken against Xavier and had to wear a protective face mask, but more startling was how different his game looked.
McLaughlin went from averaging 19.2 points per game and shooting a remarkable 61.1 percent, including 52.4 percent on three-point attempts to scoring just 6.5 points with 31.8 percent shooting.
"He was playing great basketball before he broke his nose," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "The mask really affected him. It affected our whole team."
But earlier this week, McLaughlin discarded the mask. "I thought it was time for me to take it off." Since then, he has begun to round back into the All-Pac-12 caliber he was showing before his injury. He scored double figures for only the second time since the injury on Monday.
Then he came out and had a record-setting performance against Lafayette. Forced to play 40 minutes with backups Julian Jacobs and Malik Marquetti out, McLaughlin made the most of it, dancing in the lane, prancing up the court, passing here, dishing there and providing assists everywhere.
McLaughlin set the school record with 16 assists, breaking Brandon Granville's record of 15 set in 1999. He also scored 14 points for his first career double-double and set a career-high with eight rebounds, finishing two boards shy of only the second triple-double in school history.
"He's back, we hope, to playing like he was capable of. Tonight, he was spectacular," Enfield said. "Jordan did a terrific job of managaing the game and getting the ball to the right place at the right time."
Following the game, Steve Lopes, a senior associate athletic director, gave McLaughlin the game ball as a keepsake. McLaughlin brought it with him to the post-game presser and said he plans to give it to his mother, who will likely entomb the ball in glass to forever showcase the achievement.
Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.comPlaying Short-Handed
USC played without a pair of starters as Julian Jacobs (Achilles) and Bennie Boatwright (lower back) were both held out. An ill Malik Marquetti tried to play, but lasted only two minutes before asking to be taken out of the game and going straight to the locker room.
The Trojans only had three guards, so they needed all three to play well. Instead, all three were exceptional. Playing with a shortened bench just meant more opportunities for the starters, who finished with 94 of the 100 points. More than half of those points were scored by Elijah Stewart and Katin Reinhardt.
Stewart equaled his career high with 27 points and six made three-pointers while Reinhardt had 26 points and six made three-pointers. They also combined for eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and only one turnover. Reinhardt is now averaging 19.2 points per game in his last five games.
"When you have that kind of productivity out of your two wings, you are going to win a lot of games," Enfield said.
Stewart started slowly, missing his first three shots, but showing confidence in his jumper. Then he produced a play that showcased what he needs to be doing more frequently. He attacked a defensive rebound, turned and took off up court where he drove to the basket, got fouled and made the leaner off the glass. It got him going a little bit and after he started 2-for-7, he finished with a flurry, making seven of his last 10 shots.
With a couple of baskets, Stewart had his confidence and swagger back. It's something that stemmed from some needed work in the gym after hours.
"I had to go back to the drawing board and work on my form to get my release to be a little bit quicker. I was holding it at the top and that was causing me to shoot short. I made adjustments."
Stewart said he noticed the error on film and when he was working with the shooting machine and was able to make the correction to pull himself out of a month-long slump that saw him score in double figures only once over a nine-game period.
"He's a good basketball player," Enfield said. "He needs to affect the game on both ends of the court and when he's doing that, he's as good as anyone we have on our team. He just needs to be consistent and bring that effort and that confidence every night."
But how does the coaching staff get Stewart to play with consistent confidence?
"I don't think it's really something a coach can do. It's something a player has to bring to the table. We try to give him all the confidence in the world," Enfield said. "He went through a little dry spell, but he's back now."
Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.comConference Time
USC finishes the non-conference schedule 11-2 and a perfect 9-0 at home. But now it's time for conference play. The Pac-12 has the second best conference RPI currently and every team has a record above .500. In fact, entering Wednesday, half the teams have two losses or less and no team has more than four losses. The conference is good and no games are going to be guaranteed victories. USC starts the conference schedule on the road against the Washington schools, who were picked to finish at the bottom of the standings, but have both played well.
"We're tested early with two road games. I think that will be a big challenge for us, especially our two freshman. They haven't played a true conference road game yet," McLaughlin said. "But we're right where we want to be. We've hit 100 a few times and we've just got to keep getting better offensively and defensively."
Some people might still be skeptical, but USC has played well all season. The Trojans only two losses are to a pair of top 25 RPI teams and USC was actually ranked No. 29 in RPI entering the game against Lafayette. It's a big reason why USC is currently being projected as an NCAA tournament team by ESPN's Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm with CBS. Things could obviously change quickly as USC gets into the heart of the Pac-12 schedule, especially if it can't get healthy, but the Trojans also have a shot to make some noise.
***Enfield said he hopes to have Jacobs and Boatwright back next week, but officially ruled them day-to-day, saying that he wouldn't put them in the lineup unless they were 100 percent. He said they would be re-evaluated when the players return from Christmas break.
The Trojans more than a week off before they open up Pac-12 play with a trip to the Pacific Northwest. USC plays five of its first seven conference games on the road (where they have struggled mightily under Enfield) starting with a game at Washington State on New Year's Day. The Cougars were picked to finish last in the Pac-12, but entered Wednesday with a 7-3 record and two losses to top 15 programs.