When Elijah Stewart threw the ball off the backboard to Julian Jacobs for a thunderous slam dunk, everyone could feel the monkey come off the USC Trojans' collective back. Stewart, who knocked down a career-high five 3-pointers, scored 19 points to lead USC over the Oregon State Beavers 68-55 on Saturday afternoon at the Galen Center. It was the Trojans' first win in over a month and snapped a nine-game losing streak. The freshman added five rebounds, four assists, three steals, and three incredibly athletic blocks in what was probably the best individual performance from any Trojan this season.
Since scoring 22 points against Boston College in late December, Stewart had scored just 26 points in his last 13 games. He was able to stay in the lineup, though, because of USC's lack of depth and his terrific defense. On Saturday, he pinned three Oregon State shots against the backboard and was pesky on the perimeter. For the first time in a while, USC fans were able to see why the coaching staff is higher on Stewart than any other player on the roster.
USC, playing without starting point guard Jordan McLaughlin for the third time this season (the Trojans are now 2-1 in those games), received excellent production from all three of its main guards. Stewart, Jacobs, and Katin Reinhardt combined for 49 points and shot 17-for-34 (50 percent) from the field against the top defensive team in the Pac-12. They were also 8-for-18 from 3-point range. Jacobs had eight rebounds and seven assists to go along with his 14 points. Jacobs and Stewart started, while Andy Enfield brought Katin Reinhardt off the bench for just the fourth time this season.
The first half was tight from start to finish. Oregon State took a 26-20 lead, but USC closed on a mini 6-2 run to cut the Beavers' lead to just two at the break. The Trojans came out of the locker room on a 15-8 spurt to create some distance, and took a double digit lead for good on a layup by Nikola Jovanovic with 4:44 to go.
During the losing streak, USC lost five of the nine games by five points or less. This time, they were able to finish down the stretch, in large part because they made 10 of their final 11 free throw attempts after starting the game just 4-for-12 from the stripe. USC out-shot the Beavers 45.1 percent to 32.8. Oregon State was just 12-for-20 at the free throw line. They committed 16 turnovers, which helped USC overcome 23 turnovers of its own.
Langston Morris-Walker led Oregon State with 17 points, including four 3-pointers, but needed 15 shots to do so. Gary Payton II struggled after dominating USC in the first meeting. He went just 5-for-14 with 11 points. Malcolm Duvivier and Daniel Gomis had 10 points apiece for the Beavers, who are now just 1-6 on the road in conference play. USC's bench outscored Oregon State's 20-3.
USC improves to 10-15 overall and 2-11 in the conference, matching its Pac-12 win total from last season. Oregon State falls to 16-9 and 7-6. The Beavers' slim NCAA Tournament hopes took a major hit this weekend, with losses to both UCLA and USC in Los Angeles.