An offensive barrage that saw USC hit its first 6 three-point attempts of the second half against Pepperdine killed off any of the already-futile hopes the Waves had of escaping the Galen Center with a win Sunday.
The Trojans defeated visiting Pepperdine (4-6), 93-67, to improve to 9-0 on the season. With the victory, USC clinched the best start to a season in program history since 1971, a year in which the Trojans finished 24-2.
USC’s winning effort Sunday was powered by a 12-of-23 (a season-best 52.2 percent) shooting performance from beyond the three-point line. Overall, the Trojans shot a season-best 30-of-53 (56.6 percent) from the field against Pepperdine.
“We’re sharing the basketball, and that’s a key for our team,” said head coach Andy Enfield, whose team recorded 18 assists Sunday. “You try to make the extra pass and take the shot when you have the chance … our players are playing unselfishly.”
Junior guard Elijah Stewart hit his first 4 three-point attempts of the second half and finished the contest with a game-high 26 points. In total, Stewart made a career-high 7 three-point field goals (shot 7-of-12 from three-point range Sunday) against the Waves.
In addition to leading the game in scoring, Stewart matched a career-high in blocks with four; he also recorded four rebounds and two assists.
“This is what I came here for, to change the basketball culture here … We’ll continue to play at a high level,” Stewart said. “All of our guards and bigs are athletic. That helps when you can jump out of the gym.”
USC had a historic night defensively, as it recorded a total of 14 blocks as a team, the most ever in a single game in school-history. In addition to Stewart’s four blocks, three other Trojans recorded multiple blocks.
“That’s a lot of blocks,” Enfield said. “Our guards were able to block some shots, and [Stewart] led us [in that category].”
USC sophomore forward Chimezie Metu recorded his third double-double of the season with an 11-point, 10-rebound effort on Sunday.
With just under seven minutes remaining in the first half, Metu had a monstrous put-back slam that gave USC a 31-17 lead at that point in the contest.
“You see some things, and just shake your head … I wish I could have done things like that when I played,” Enfield said. “That was just a spectacular play.”
Junior guard Jordan McLaughlin was arguably the most efficient asset the Trojans had against the Waves — he finished the game 7-for-7 shooting from the field (18 points) and also recorded six assists.
The Trojans received strong contributions from freshman forward Nick Rakocevic throughout the game. Rakocevic had career-highs in both points (13) and rebounds (9) against Pepperdine. In addition to two dunks in the contest, Rakocevic shot 9-of-10 from the free throw line Sunday.
“The key for me is staying aggressive and being ready,” Rakocevic said. “My teammates did a great job finding me tonight. That’s why I shot so many free throws.”
All five players in the Trojans starting lineup finished in double-figures scoring: Stewart, McLaughlin, Metu, Rakocevic and redshirt sophomore Shaqquan Aaron (scored 13 points).
Redshirt senior Charles Buggs, a forward for USC, suffered an injury during pregame warmups Sunday and was held out from playing in the game, Enfield said.
USC will now look to extend its season-opening winning streak to 10 games next week when it hosts Troy at the Galen Center on Dec. 17.