For the first six minutes, New Orleans was hanging tough with USC despite a long trip to Los Angeles and a roster with less talent.
With UNO trailing 12-11, Travin Thibodeaux, the man with the most New Orleans name of all the Privateers, had an opprtunity to give his team the lead, but his contested layup came off the rim and was grabbed by a Trojan. @USC came down and scored on a Chimezie Metu layup. USC added a layup soon after, then a 3-pointer, a layup, a Jonah Mathews jumper and a Mathews 3-pointer. Nick Rakocevic made a free throw to close a 15-0 run.
The Privateers never had a chance after. Bennie Boatwright scored five straight points near the end of the half that pushed USC's lead to 19. The closest it got in the second half was 42-27 on New Orleans' first basket after halftime. A 17-5 run in the middle of the half put the Trojans up by 32. They would win by 34, overpowering and outshooting their Southland opponent, 88-54, to improve to 4-0.
Elijah Stewart made seven of his 10 field goal attempts, including 3-of-5 three-point shots, to score a game-high 21 points -- his second 20+ point effort this season. The Trojans had five players in double figures. Mathews scored 13 points. Shaqquan Aaron had 12. Jordan McLaughlin added nine assists to his 11 points while De'Anthony Melton made five of his seven attempts for 10 points. All five players shot above 50 percent. As a team, USC shot 49.2 percent for the game. It held New Orleans to 34.4 percent -- just 27.3 on three-point attempts.
Erik Thomas led the Privateers with 20 points, but needed 17 shots. New Orleans' second-leading scorer coming into the game, Christavious Gill was held to three points on 1-of-11 shooting.
Here's three takeaways from USC's easy win over New Orleans Tuesday evening:
With USC getting a dominant 34-point win over New Orleans, the Trojans' freshmen and walk-ons got some extra opportunities to show their skills. READ MORE
De'Anthony the Defender
In his 20 minutes of game action, De'Anthony Melton made five of his seven shot attempts for 10 points. He had two assists to one turnover and he grabbed three boards, which is actually a season low for the talented freshman. He is third on the team, averaging 6.5 rebounds per game.
But Melton more than made up for that facet with his defensive performance. Melton continues to be a defensive stalwart. He collected five steals against New Orleans.
"He moves his feet," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "He anticipates where players are going to be and then he sticks his arms out and gets a lot of deflections and steals. It's something you can't teach. That's why we recruited him because we thought he would be a contributor on a variety of ways to our success as a program."
He now has at least two steals in every game he's playerd and has three straight games with at least three steals. Melton is No. 7 in the nation with 3.25 steals per game and is tied for 11th overall with 13 total steals. Only one other Power 5 conference player -- Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans -- has more.
"He's got really long arms and he's quick. He's not really built like a freshman, so he's able to absorb contact," Elijah Stewart said. "He knows where to be at certain spots and he digs very well. He's just a good player."
Bennie Buckets Turns Bennie Bricks
After missing two months in the summer with a hip injury and missing the Trojans' first two games with a minor nerve issue in the back of his shooting shoulder, Bennie Boatwright has understandably started slow. The 6-foot-10 sharpshooter missed a layup on USC's second possession and soon after had a three-pointer rattle out. Things didn't get much better as Boatwright went 2-for-11 from the field and made just one of his seven attempts on 3-pointers.
On the season, Boatwright is 5-for-24 from the field (20.8). In half the number of games, he has the third most three-point attempts already, having hoisted 15 in two games. However, he has made just two of those.
Andy Enfield doesn't seem concerned about Boatwright's shot at this point.
"He's cleared to play, but he's been out for two months," Enfield said. "He had the hip injury and then he finally came back and within a week, he hurt his back.
"He's out of rhythm. He's getting back in shape. He just needs to play minutes and get that confidence back. Everyone knows he's an outstanding basketball player, so we're not concerned."
Boatwright is just following the trend of his teammates. Through the first three games, USC was shooting just 38 percent from the floor. The Trojans had made 18-of-70 three-point attempts for a poor 25.7 percent. Last season, they made 46 percent of their field goals and 38.7 percent of deep balls.
It came as little surprise they would break free from their early shooting slump. It was just a matter of when, which was Tuesday night when USC went 16-for-29 (55.2 percent) in the first half and knocked down half of their 14 three-point attempts. The hot shooting came from USC's five scholarship guards, who combined to shoot 24-for-39 (61.5) and made 10 of their 17 three-point attempts (58.8).
"No one is really shooting good right now," guard Elijah Stewart said. "But we're still stopping teams on defense. I feel like that's where our strong suit is this year is on the defensive end and not the offensive end, but offense will come."
Remaining at the Galen Center, the Trojans welcome the SMU Mustangs on Friday at 4 p.m. in a matchup of tournament-caliber teams hoping to earn a little more national attention. The Mustangs, led by Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye's 20.6 points per game, are 4-1 with a win over Pittsburgh during the 2K Sports Classic before they lost the tournment championship to Michigan, 76-54.
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