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USC Basketball season in review: Elijah Stewart

Elijah Stewart increased his scoring to become a vital cog in USC’s rotation last season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Baylor vs USC
Elijah Stewart celebrates after a dunk.
Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

As USC Trojans basketball gears up for a new and exciting campaign, we look back on each individual player’s season and what to look for in 2017-18.

Impact:

When Elijah Stewart came to USC as a freshman, he was a bouncy shooting guard that occasionally combined his athleticism and potential for jaw dropping plays. Between emphatic blocks and dunks, he looked to have a lot of promise.

Since then, Stewart has tightened his handle and become a knock down shooter. With injuries to Bennie Boatwright, his offensive role grew and he stepped up several times for the Trojans. On 5.6 three-point attempts per game, Stewart hit a 38.6 percent clip, giving the Trojans much needed spacing on the wing. His career-high 12.3 points per game and low turnovers, illustrated a player that become more impactful from year one to year three.

The problem for Stewart though, was consistency. For those who have followed his three years at USC, this is no surprise. While his three-point shooting has been reliable, not much else has been. He was up and down all year, especially in the Pac-12, and even put up a goose egg in the point column in the NCAA Tournament against Providence. Performances like that make what he does a game later more confusing. After that scoreless game, he dropped 22 essential points in a win over SMU. When Stewart starts clicking, USC becomes that much harder to defend and defeat.

Key Games:

11/11/16 - W vs Montana: 30 points, including 14 made free throws, and seven rebounds in a season opening win.

12/3/16 - W vs BYU: 16 points, five rebounds and one block in a neutral floor victory over the Cougars.

1/22/17 - W vs ASU: 29 points, on seven 3-pointers, two assists, one steal and one block in a Trojans win over the Sun Devils, after a loss to Arizona.

1/25/17 - W vs UCLA: 15 points (4 three-pointers), four assists, three steals and two blocks in USC’s upset of UCLA.

3/17/17 - W vs SMU: 22 points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks to push the Trojans into the Round of 32.

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at Arizona
Elijah soars for two against Arizona.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

What to look for in 2017-18:

After a strong junior season, there’s no guarantees for Stewart this fall. Even as a senior he has to earn a potential starting spot. He has to earn the right to even get minutes.

With Jordan McLaughlin the only shoo-in to start in the backcourt, there is only so much playing time to go around. De’Anthony Melton, Jonah Mathews, Shaqquan Aaron, Derryck Thornton, and Charles O’Bannon Jr. are all expecting minutes. Stewart should play next season, but he’ll be under the microscope to bring consistency.

If he can bring senior leadership and experience, he’s valuable no matter what. When Stewart plays with energy, focus and confidence, he takes USC to another level. However, seeing all three at once was few and far between over the past three years. Oftentimes he looked like a player who didn’t want the ball in key situations. Now as a senior, there are no more future seasons. It’ll be interesting to see how his senior status manifests itself on the court, especially with a much deeper rotation.

Either way, his shooting is a huge asset. With so many young and unproven wing players, Stewart’s experience and range will be relied upon is he’s up for it. His biggest focus needs to be consistent effort and focus on defense. With such competition, not being able to hold his own on defense might see him yanked or replaced. But don’t get it twisted, a good Elijah Stewart makes the Trojans much better than most people realize. Having a strong senior year will lead to a subtle uptick in the win column.