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USC 3-Pointer: Exhausted Trojans Get Close Win Over Fullerton

Double-doubles down low carry USC past the Titans.

USC forwards Darion Clark and Nikola Jovanovic (center) led the Trojans to a win.
USC forwards Darion Clark and Nikola Jovanovic (center) led the Trojans to a win.
Shotgun Spratling/USC Rivals

It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but the USC Trojans held on for a 53-49 victory over Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday night at the Galen Center.

Nikola Jovanovic and Darion Clark both recorded double-doubles for USC down low to best the Titans and Lanerryl Johnson, who scored 18 of his game-high 21 points in the second half.

Here's the Trojans' 3-pointer of noteworthy things from the win over the Titans:

1. Exhausted Trojans

Playing their sixth game in 11 days and more importantly, their fourth game in six days -- along with traveling across the country to play in South Carolina, the Trojans looked weary.

"Our guys are exhausted," USC head coach Andy Enfield said in a radio interview immediately after the game.

But they fought through. That is probably best exemplified by USC freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin. After playing no fewer than 32 minutes in the first five games and leading the team averaging 33.2 minutes per game, McLaughlin played just 21 ineffective minutes. He only had four points, but those came on back-to-back possession at a crucial juncture.

USC had led by as many as 14 points after a 13-2 run early in the second half, but Fullerton countered with a 13-2 run of its own, until McLaughlin crossed over his defender and scored a floater off the glass on the right side. The next time down, McLaughlin sank another floater, this time from the left elbow. He ended up 2-of-7 on the night, but those were a big two buckets. He also had three assists to two turnovers.

The Trojans will get the next two days off before preparing for Sunday's 1 p.m. PST matchup with New Mexico at The Pit in Albuquerque.

2. Getting Big Down Low

Nikola Jovanovic finally showed some signs of coming out of his early-season funk. Jovanovic scored 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds, including four on the offensive end, to record his first double-double of the season and the second of his career. He also blocked four shots.

Jovanovic did some things he hasn't frequently done this season like knock down a midrange jump shot for possibly the first time all year. He also did what the coaching staff has been harping on him to do with the ball in his hands in the paint -- go up strong and finish! Jovanovic came across the lane and snatched a rebound. One dribble with a bump against a defender, step through two Fullerton players and up strong, finishing with a two-handed slam.

Fellow forward Darion Clark also had a big slam late in the game and finished with his first career double-double, scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting and pulling down a career-high 14 rebounds.

"Darion's a big time rebounder," Andy Enfield said. "He's fearless. He throws his body around."

USC announced during the game that freshman post player Malik Martin is week-to-week after his MRI results did not show any ligament damage to his right knee that he injured in the Trojans' Charleston Classic opener. He only has a deep bone bruise, but his return isn't likely until the middle of December at the earliest.

With Martin out, it's great to see his fellow post players stepping up in his absence. On Sunday, Strahinja Gavrilovic set career highs in points and rebounds and the very next game, Jovanovic and Clark both go for double-doubles.

3. Make Some Shots

USC mustered a 39.0 shooting percentage for the game. It isn't terrible, but it isn't great. However, the Trojans missed a number of good looks around the basket and even missed three layups on open breakaways. Nikola Jovanovic continues to struggle from the floor, even though his 6-for-15 night raised his shooting percentage.

The Trojans also struggled shooting the ball elsewhere. The Trojans were just 3-of-14 on three-point attempts with Katin Reinhardt going 2-for-7 and Kahlil Dukes coming off the bench for only his second game action of the season to knock down his only attempt. Twenty-one percent just isn't good enough from the outside.

But the most staggering place USC struggled to shoot the ball was at the free throw line. "It's a free throw, it's free!" But not for the Trojans. USC was a pathetic 4-for-14 from the charity stripe. Jovanovic was 1-for-5 and he missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity with 18 seconds remaining.

Darion Clark's woes at the stripe continued as he missed both of his chances and probably the most bothersome is an 0-for-2 from Jordan McLaughlin. If USC finds itself in more tight games, McLaughlin has to be able to control the ball, take the foul and knock down the free throws.