Finishing games strong is much more vital than starting games strong.
USC lived by this narrative as it bested BYU, 91-84, in front of a crowd of approximately 8,000 at Staples Center Saturday as part of the Hoophall LA basketball showcase. With the victory, the Trojans improved their regular season record to 8-0 — the best start to a season for the men’s basketball program since the 2000-2001 campaign.
USC overcame a slow start against the Cougars (5-3) in the victory. Over the first six minutes of regulation, BYU jumped out to a 12-2 lead over the Trojans. USC opened the game by missing 16 of its first 17 field goal attempts shot 5.8 percent from field during BYU’s opening run.
Following this opening stretch, USC finished the first half shooting 14-of-22 (63.6 percent) from the field.
Overall, from when 14:01 remained in the first half all the way through the conclusion of regulation, the Trojans shot 29-of-49 (59.2 percent) from the floor as a team.
The final three minutes of the first half saw USC go on a 16-5 run to enter the halftime break. That momentum carried over into the second half for the Trojans, as they opened the second period of play on a 14-5 run that lasted over four minutes.
USC junior guard Jordan McLaughlin was named the Hoophall LA MVP of the game against the Cougars.
McLaughlin — who recorded six rebounds and four assists Saturday — finished the contest with 24 points scored on 8-of-12 shooting from the field.
“I just go with the flow of the game,” said McLaughlin, who scored 16 of his points in the second half against BYU. “If I’m open, I have the confidence to take that shot … we have confidence in all the guys on our team, and if I can make that shot it could get all of our guys going.”
Shaqquan Aaron, a redshirt sophomore guard for USC, totaled a career-high 19 points against BYU. USC’s scoring run in the first half was sparked by Aaron’s four three-point field goals made during the opening period of play.
A total of five players scored in double-figures for USC Saturday: McLaughlin, Aaron, junior guard Elijah Stewart (scored 16 points), sophomore forward Chimezie Metu (12) and freshman guard De’Anthony Melton (12).
Melton’s well-rounded performance against BYU saw him score 12 points, pull in a team-high eight rebounds and record a game-high six assists. He also blocked a shot and made two steals on defense against the Cougars.
“For a freshman to come in like [Melton], he’s just college-ready,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “He’s just a good basketball player, he can do everything … what you’re seeing is a young man who is preparing himself mentally and physically to play well every night.”
With just over a minute remaining in regulation, USC had possession of the ball with BYU closing in on the Trojans’ 80-75 lead. That crucial possession concluded with a three-pointer from Melton that gave USC an 83-75 lead with 1:10 remaining in regulation — putting a serious dent in any comeback hopes which BYU may have had.
In the first half, USC was 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the three-point arc; the Trojans finished the game 9-of-21 (42.9 percent) from three-point range.
Throughout the game, USC made the most of its opportunities in transition. The Trojans outscored BYU on fast break opportunities, 12-6. USC also capitalized on the Cougars’ mistakes offensively, scoring 19 points off of BYU turnovers.
A high-scoring second half saw USC and BYU match one another in points, 52-52. USC was 15-of-27 (55.6 percent) from the field in the second half; BYU shot 17-of-33 (51.5 percent) to finish the contest.
BYU’s offensive presence down low (scored 48 points in the paint) put USC in foul trouble Saturday — both Metu and freshman forward Nick Rakocevic fouled out of the game.
“BYU challenged us because their perimeter players are so good and they have [forward Erik] Mika (who scored 29 points) inside who we couldn’t stop — he was getting fouls, scoring points,” Enfield said. “It wasn’t like we were perfect on defense tonight … we have some things to work on, just like every other team does. ”
USC will return to the Galen Center on Dec. 11 to host Pepperdine (4-4) in its next non-conference matchup this season. With a win over the Waves, USC could clinch the best start to a season in program history since 1971, when the team started 16-0.