3-Pointer: USC basketball off to best start since 1971

Takeaways from USC basketball's dominant 93-76 win over Pepperdine at the Galen Center to remain undefeated for the season (9-0).

Chimezie Metu dribbled away from the double team he had attracted in the post. He made it to the left wing and fired a crosscourt pass to Jordan McLaughlin, who quickly sent it to the right corner where Jonah Mathews hoisted a three-pointer.

Metu saw the shot being let go and opened up his stride, sprinting from the left sideline to the middle of the paint. He leapt from outside the charge circle. Pepperdine big man Nolan Taylor jumped up only to have Metu grab the ball above him and slam it through for a thunderous putback bucket.

The Trojans were too big, too athletic and too skilled to be stopped by Pepperdine. They rolled to a 93-67 win Sunday night at the Galen Center to improve to 9-0 on the season -- the best start in school history since the 1970-71 season when the Trojans began 16-0.

USC needed 97 seconds to score its first points of the game and missed its final five field goal attempts on the night. In between, the Trojans made almost everything shooting 30-for-46 (65.2 percent) between the bookend struggles. The Trojans first points were part of an 11-0 run from which Pepperdine never recovered. They led by 18 points at halftime and pushed their cushion to as many as 35 points in the second half.

Elijah Stewart led both the offensive and defensive parties. USC's junior guard scored 26 points while dropping in a career-best seven 3-pointers and led the block party on the other end, swatting away four shots.

The Trojans were proficient in both categories, making 14 of 23 three-point attempts, including shooting 70 percent in the second half, and blocking 14 shots. 

USC had four more players score in double figures behind Stewart. McLaughlin had 18 points, Nick Rakocevic and Shaqquan Aaron both scored 13 and Chimezie Metu tallied his second double-double in three games with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Rakocevic fell a rebound shy of his first career double-double, but did set career highs in both points and rebounds.

Jeremy Major led Pepperdine with 19 points on 8-for-16 shooting, but the Waves leading scorer, Lamond Murray Jr., was held to only half of his 22.0 points per game scoring average.

USC held Pepperdine to 38.2 percent shooting while notching season best marks for field goal percentage (56.6) and three-point percentage (52.2).

Here's three takeaways from USC's dominant victory over Pepperdine Sunday night:

Consistent Contributor

Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

Coming into the season, Elijah Stewart's focus was on becoming a more consistent player after his USC career had seen him ride a roller coaster of effectiveness ranging from a perfect 10-for-10 shooting performance and 22 points against an ACC opponent as a freshman to needing the next eight games to accumulate 22 points. Last season, Stewart scored 52 points in the first three games, but scored in double figures just once in the next nine games.

This year, he leads the Trojans averaging 17.1 points after his third 20+ point performance on Sunday night. Stewart has scored in double figures in eight of the nine games and scored 15+ in six of USC's nine games. 

Against Pepperdine, he knocked down a career-best seven 3-pointers as he scored a game-high 26 points. Stewart now has made a 3-pointer in 16 straight games, but he is producing in a variety of ways. In the season opener against Montana, he scored a career-high 30 points by getting to the free throw line 16 times. His first two seasons he never shot more than six free throws in a game. He made 14 freebies that game and is shooting a career-high 83.3 percent on free throws this year.

But it isn't just his scoring that is up.

"Elijah has been outstanding all year," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "He has added a lot to his game. He is becoming a more complete basketball player. We challenged him to do that and so far he is doing a nice job."

His field goal percentage is up to 44.7 percent. He is grabbing 2.2 rebounds more than last season and is second on the team with 5.8 rebounds per game, including recording his first career double-double in a road win at Texas A&M. He tied a career-high four blocks against Pepperdine and is averaging a career-best 1.6 blocks per game after leading the team in blocks as a freshman. His assists are up slightly from 1.1 to 1.3 per game.

Silent Domination

Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

With guys like Elijah Stewart putting up big point totals and Chimezie Metu creating solo highlight reels every night, USC's quiet captain is going unnoticed. 

Jordan McLaughlin put up one of the most impressive stat lines of the year and barely anyone mentioned him after the game. He made all seven of his field goal attempts, including his only three-point attempt, to score 18 points. He also fed his teammates, dishing out six assists to only one turnover. He also added two steals and a block on the defensive end.

With fellow caption Bennie Boatwright out the last two games, McLaughlin has picked up the slack. He has scored 42 points on 15-of-19 shooting to go with a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. After having only four steals in the first seven games, he has had four the last two games.

McLaughlin's scoring is slightly down this season at 12.6 points after averaging 13.4 last year. However, he has become a much more efficient scorer. The Trojans point guard is shooting more than two fewer attempts per game, but making nearly the same amount as he making an outstanding 56.9 percent of his shots. McLaughlin has become even more confident with his decision making raising his assists average (5.0) while dropping his turnovers (2.0). Since turning the ball over nine times in the first two games, he's had just 11 in the last seven games while assisting on 35 baskets.

"We're sharing the basketball," Andy Enfield said. "That's the key to our team, making the extra pass. When you get guard play like that, you're going to play well offensively."

Set the Record Straight with a Rejection

Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

Blocks are notoriously one of the worst kept stats in college basketball. The stat crew typically has one person assigned to input every statistical effort into the gamelog with either one or two spotters to call out each play. It's a difficult task and blocks are one of the stats that usually gets lost on occasion, especially if there are multiple attempts at the basket in a quick sequence.

However, there was no missing USC's block party on Sunday. The Trojans swatted some shots all the way back to half court, which invariably led to fast break baskets when the Trojans were able to get control of the ball. Elijah Stewart rejected four shots, tying his career high. Freshmen Nick Rakocevic and De'Anthony Melton added three each -- both career highs.

In total, USC returned to sender 14 shots setting a new school record. The Trojans blocked 13 against Idaho State in 2010. They had 11 blocks twice last season and had 11 when they played New Orleans last month.

Up Next

USC won't play again until Saturday, just its second game in a two-week span due to final exams. When it returns to the court, it will welcome Troy to the Galen Center. The other Trojans are 5-4 this season. They are led by Jordon Varnado, younger brother of Jarvis, who remains the NCAA shot block leader from his time at Mississippi State. Jordon didn't get his brother's height, but the 6-foot-6 forward is much more of an offensive weapon, averaging 15.3 points per game after a career-high 27 in Troy's last game.

Highlights

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