It was a relieving performance from the USC Trojans, trucking over the Santa Clara Broncos by 23 points in the 82-59 win. The Broncos are not an exceptional squad, definitely not a team anyone expects to beat a PAC-12 roster, (especially when up against a program with the lofty expectations of USC) but it was still an important win for a Trojan team that has needed to find themselves.
The problems of the season pursued USC right up to the jump ball, as controversy was the theme headed into the game. The storm that is De’Anthony Melton and his continual absence because of scandal was a cloud leading up to the game that he was predicted to (but failed to) play in, while Elijah Stewart and his poor play bought him bench time.
Yet the Trojans took care of business, doing what they desperately needed to do: Get back on track. USC jumped out to a 10-0 lead, with an early Jordan McLaughlin to Chimezie Metu alley-oop off a turnover summing up how the game would proceed.
Metu and Bennie Boatwright combined for 19 of the 37 first half points from USC, as the team shot 40 percent to open the game. But the even bigger impact was the defense, which held the Broncos to 25 percent shooting in the starting 20 minutes and 18 percent from range.
As the Trojans continued to pull away in the second half, Metu and Boatwright clearly became the best players on the court, as both grabbed 11 rebounds along with 20 and 21 points respectively. The Trojans recorded three players with double-doubles (all starters) and the starting five shot 50 percent from 3-point range.
Even with a quiet night from McLaughlin (nine points) he still was a major contributor, racking up 10 assists in the game. But the night may have been stolen by Nick Rakocevic, who snagged starting duties ahead of Stewart. He finished with 16 points and 10 boards in a mere 18 minutes of play, while Stewart continued to struggle off the bench, only posting four points in his 21 minutes.
It was a much needed strong showing from the USC core, with a victory providing what the team needed to prepare them for conference play.
Three Digestible Nuggets
- Rakocevic has to keep starting. Stewart has looked very bad and does not do nearly enough off-ball to justify heavier minutes. Rakocevic can play strong off the glass and pairs well with Metu in on defense, while shooting 6-for-9 when given heavier minutes.
- This was a comeback game for Boatwright, the maligned want-to-be outside threat. He shot 3-for-5 from deep and if he is able to parlay the shooting rhythm he found into deep consistency it will really free up McLaughlin on the perimeter.
- The core of this team is McLaughlin, Boatwright and Metu. Until Melton comes back, these are the players the rest of the roster will try to support. While the team has been shallow, it may have found some depth with the new rotation. Rakocevic playing a solid 20 minutes per night roll looks to be a great fit for the Trojans, while the assumed hope is Stewart can learn to be a 3-and-D player off the bench. Jonah Mathews is the player that still does not fit and is in desperate need of a niche on the roster. But now that the surrounding pieces have more or less fallen into place, they can properly function with the core.