Despite having seven double-digit wins, including four wins by 19+ points, USC had not played its entire roster in the same game this season. On Thursday night against Oregon State, the Trojans finally had everyone healthy and got to empty the bench during a 92-66 win. The blowout of the Beavers even allowed walk-on guard Kurt Karis to get five minutes of playing time. (He took advantage, scoring his first field goal with the Trojans.)
Bennie Boatwright was in the starting lineup. Charles Buggs played for the first time in five games. Shaqquan Aaron was available as well after a hard fall on his tailbone in the last game. And then the Trojans made sure walk-ons Karis, Devin Fleming, Samer Dhillon and scholarship forward Harrison Henderson got some time at the end of the game.
Oregon State (4-21, 0-12) scored the first six points and held the early lead until Jordan McLaughlin hit a three-pointer 3:49 into the game. USC never looked back as it answered the first two baskets of the game with a 13-2 run. The lead slowly crept toward double digits, but a Stephen Thompson Jr. layup with 6:57 trimmed USC's advantage to eight. But it was only one of two Oregon State field goals in the final 9:16 of the half allowing USC to build its lead up to 44-27 at halftime on the legs of a 12-3 run.
The Beavers got as close as 11 points in the second half after a 14-3 run, but the Trojans answered by scoring 17 of the next 20 points to push the lead up to the quarter-century mark, waltzing to a dominant victory that pleased the fans and got all 13 players into the game.
USC (21-4, 8-4) outshot the Beavers in all three phases. They made 50.9 percent of their field goals, including 45.5 percent of the three-point attempts, and 83.9 percent on free throws compared to 38.7, 40.9 and 64.3 for Oregon State. Aaron led the way making seven of his 10 field goal attempts, including going 5 of 6 on three-pointers, to score a game high 21 points. Three of Oregon State's leading scorers went 4 for 10, 4 for 15 and 4 for 10 from the floor to score a combined 34 points.
JaQuori McLaughlin led the Beavers with 12 points while USC had three players eclipse that mark. Along with Aaron, Boatwright added 16 points and Elijah Stewart scored 14 on 5 of 9 shooting.
Here's three takeaways from USC's 92-66 win over the Beavers Thursday night:
Hopefully, sophomore guard Shaqquan Aaron isn't sitting in a corner with a pacifier on Saturday. He pulled a Benjamin Button this week after injuring his tailbone and lower back after a hard foul in the second half at Washington State. On Monday, he was limping around the sidelines like a decrepit old man at practice, but as the week progressed, so did his injury. He began walking better and by Wednesday he was able to participate in practice. On Thursday, the transformation from geriatric to prime was completed when Aaron came off the bench to score a game-high 21 points on 7 of 10 shooting, including a career-high five 3-pointers.
"I’m just trying to play my game and let the game come to me," the Seattle (Wash.) Rainier Beach prep who sat out last year after transferring from Louisville. "I’m getting used to the flow of the game again. I’m just getting comfortable. When I get in the game, I just try to do what I know to do, regardless of when I get in."
Aaron checked into the game four and a half minutes into the game with the Trojans leading by two. On USC's first offensive possession, he assisted on a Jonah Mathews' corner three. The next two possessions Aaron knocked down 3-pointers. By halftime, he was the only scorer in double figures. The second half was a bit of deja vu as Aaron nailed a 3-pointer his second possession after checking into the game and soon hit another. He fell just two points shy of the career-high 23 points he provided against UCLA the last time USC played in the Galen Center.
"He spotted up and was efficient on offense, made some threes and shot them in rhythm and played a really good floor game tonight," USC head coach Andy Enfield said.
Building Off Bennie
Getting Bennie Boatwright back from injury hasn't just added an extra shooter or an extra big man for the Trojans. It has changed the entire dynamic of the offense. He creates more space for Chimezie Metu down low because teams can't slump down their defensive, particularly at the other forward position. He's able to drive and create for teammates. He has 10 assists in his three games since returning.
Most importantly, he's been able to jump right in seamlessly, which isn't always the case when you add a significant offensive contributor to a team that has been playing well with that player out.
“Sometimes when you have a player out for 18 games, like Bennie, it's hard to get them back in the rotation without affecting your team. Bennie is so skilled that he's let the game come to him and he's just been able to come in offensively and just make the right pass,” Enfield said. “Plus, he's shooting the ball and scoring, so when you have a guy who is unselfish and can make the right play, you usually can get him involved quickly.”
“Bennie's skill set makes it easy for our team and the coaches to get him back in the lineup and rotation.”
Suddenly, USC can run different offensive sets that weren't available earlier in the season. The wings are getting more open looks.
"It’s great having Bennie back. He’s a great player," Shaqquan Aaron said. "He’s another weapon. He’s a dangerous weapon, he can score inside and outside. That helps everyone around him."
Enfield has been able to dust off the 'Bennie Buckets Section' of the playbook and can run unique sets that take advantage of his ballhandling and or shooting ability, such as the high pick and roll that Boatwright and Metu have run together each of the last two games. Against Washington State, the defense tried to help on Boatwright, leaving Metu rolling to the rim where Boatwright found him for an alley-ooo slam. Oregon State made an adjustment to what it saw the Trojans previously run and stayed back, leaving Boatwright some room and he knocked down a deep jumper.
With both of their sophomore forwards healthy, USC is now able to push the tempo even more because both Boatwright and Metu are capable of grabbing a defensive rebound, turning upcourt and leading the break themselves, which both did multiple times Thursday night.
Enfield has given both the green light and says that he is comfortable with either being a ballhandler and distributor in those situations.
"It's an advantage as long as they make the right decision and those guys are both good ball handlers. They are very good passers and for the most part this year in transition, they've made the right decision."
"They've worked hard on their skill sets. Boatwright is a guard. He just happens to be 6'10" and Chimezie thinks he's a guard," Enfield said with a chuckle.
The Trojans have made it a habit of starting poorly this season. Some times they are slow out of the gates from the opening tip. Some times the issues also pop up after halftime. That wasn't necessarily the case on Thursday. USC did fall behind 6-0. It turned the ball over twice in its first five possessions, but after missing their first field goal attempt, they hit their next six, resulting in 17 points. USC hit five 3-pointers to go along with a Chimezie Metu dunk.
When they finally missed again, they grabbed an offensive rebound and eventually made another 3-pointer. The first-minute six-point hole had turned into a seven-point lead in less than eight minutes.
After starting 5 for 6 from deep, USC only made five more three-point attempts, finishing 10 for 22 (45.5 percent), but hitting some early shots and having a hot start was a pleasant relief for the typically slow-starting Trojans.
USC will take on a hungry Oregon team that just had a devastating loss across town Thursday evening. The Ducks blew a 19-point first half lead and lost by three to the Bruins, giving them only their second loss in the last 20 games. Oregon ended USC's undefeated start to the season at 14 games with an 84-61 beatdown in Eugene. If the Trojans want to redeem themselves and also give themselves a shot at a Pac-12 title, it has to go through the Quack Attack led by Dillon Brooks, who is averaging 14.6 points per game, including 24 against USC in the first matchup.
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