The USC Trojans fell behind 14-1, but finally got the gears in motion for a 87-68 win over Cal State Los Angeles. Led by 18 points from freshmen sensation Jordan McLaughlin, who shot 6-of-17 from the field, the Trojans' offense came to life in a balanced scoring attack where all five starters scored in double figures.
Following a not-so stellar start, the Trojans were more aggressive and got to the free throw line 29 times, as opposed to the 17 free throw attempts for the Golden Eagles. USC also forced 23 turnovers by being more active in the passing lanes, propelling 17 fast break points the other way. The game may not have counted in the win/loss column but here are some key takeaways from the Trojans preseason scrimmage against familiar faces.
J-Mac Scoring Sensation
Four-star freshman Jordan McLaughlin was given the responsibility of carrying this offense in his first true performance. It was a shaky start, but once McLaughlin started to drive to the basket (at will) he was able to pick apart a Cal State Los Angeles defense with his quickness. Following the game, J-Mac explained his comfort on the floor.
"The coach is gonna give me the green light, as long as it's an open shot," McLaughlin said of his seven three-point attempts on the night. "Our goal is to take open shots, and not take contested shots. I was just trying to step in and feel good."
Head coach Andy Enfield did comment that he wanted Jordan McLaughlin to work on finishing better at the basket, but his versatility on offense was noteworthy. That said, McLaughlin showed an electric ability to drive into the paint and create his own shot at any point, a unique trait USC will need now that Byron Wesley is not on the team.
Freshman First Look
Besides the highly-touted McLaughlin, the trio of Malik Marquetti, Malik Martin and Elijah Stewart put together impressive performances in their own right. Both Martin and Stewart scored in double figures, while Marquetti showcased his athleticism all over the floor grabbing six rebounds and dishing out five assists from the wing.
Despite some early nerves, which came from more than just those three players, the Trojan trio each showcased some great tools that could make them excellent players over the next few years. Stewart was probably the most athletic of the bunch, making Coach Enfield shake his head over how special this guy can really be. Stewart was put out of position on a screen early in the second half. He adjusted back to his man, closing out quickly and then blocked a three-point shot. That led to an easy fast-break slam dunk for Martin.
"We have athletes," Andy Enfield said of his full-court pressure that resulted in so many Golden Eagles' turnovers on the afternoon. "I thought we really pressured the ball, created steals and propelled our fast break."
Malik Martin showcased great hustle and determination down low, finishing the night with 10 points and seven rebounds. The biggest positive, however, is that Martin made all four free throw attempts and blocked two shots defensively.
While the Trojans out rebounded CSLA 46-40 in the contest, the early-game struggles on the glass allowed for multiple opportunities to expose the undersized defense. USC put the pieces together in the second half, but the lack of size on the frontline could be worrisome once Pac-12 play gets going.
Darion Clark came off the bench and contributed six rebonds, complementing the 13 combined boards from starting forwards Malik Martin and Nikola Jovanovic. Since the Trojans have two 6-foot-11 forwards, who don't necessarily blow you away with girth, USC will need all the help they can get from the guards.
Especially in a defense that will demand team-oriented boards, guys like Julian Jacobs (4 rebounds), Katin Reinhardt (3 rebounds) and Jordan McLaughlin (3 rebounds) will have to help on the glass in order to push the pace. When USC pushes the pace off those rebounds, they are very fun to watch. Just gotta make sure that can happen.
Free Throw Shooting Really Matters
USC was the worst team in the Pac-12 from the charity stripe last season, and that might change for the better with the assortment of quality shooters on this club. Led by the perfect efforts from Jovanovic, Martin and Reinhardt, the Trojans shot 22-for-29 (76 percent) from the charity stripe. Especially as the games begin to tighten, the coaching staff emphasized the importance of making these shots after the game.
"We have pretty good shooters this year," Enfield said, chuckling about the relief he felt that his team actually made their free throws. "That was huge. As we get into the season, a lot of close games... (Point being) The foul line is a big factor."
The lone player to not find much success from that spot was Darion Clark, who shot 1-of-5 from the stripe. That could present an issue for USC, especially since his defensive presence is vital. The question becomes how valuable will post defense be as opposed to late-game scoring?
We will find out starting next Saturday when the Trojans open the regular season against Portland State.