The USC men’s basketball team routed Cal State Fullerton, doubling their score 84-42 in the team’s season opener at the Galen Center on Friday.
Touted as one of the most experienced teams in the nation, USC displayed a medley of veteran development and newcomer talent that warranted the preseason top 10 hype.
News broke just before tip-off, when USC announced sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton would be held out indefinitely as a precaution surrounding questions of his eligibility. Melton is likely to be one of two previously unnamed players in the investigation surrounding associate head coach Tony Bland. The other player has not been named; everyone else suited up and played for the Trojans on Friday.
The Trojans did not appear to miss a stride without Melton, who likely would have started. Andy Enfield used his entire 14-man bench tonight and had nine play for more than ten minutes. Five players — junior forward Chimezie Metu, junior forward Boatwright, senior guard Jordan McLaughlin, sophomore guard Jonah Mathews and redshirt sophomore guard Derryck Thornton — scored in double digits.
Friday’s game exposed no systematic flaws save sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic’s foul trouble, but errors like a missed dunk by senior guard Elijah Stewart, some badly-missed jumpers and a few sloppy possessions proved the Trojans still need time to grease away the rustiness.
“I think we’re much better now than we were at the beginning of training camp 30 practices ago,” head coach Andy Enfield said.
He appreciated the way his upperclassmen came out and set the tone, playing hard on defense.
At times, USC’s game plan looked familiar but improved. For instance, throughout the past two seasons, McLaughlin has run a high pick-and-roll with Metu. Tonight, however, Metu shared in the ball-handling and even made a pair of 3-pointers.
“The next big part of Chimezie’s game was to improve his range,” Enfield said. “He’s so quick, if he gets out to the 3-point line, he can get by a lot of people.”
Boatwright said that guarding Metu has become “impossible” since he added perimeter proficiency and ball-handling to his long list of on-court abilities. Metu’s well-rounded game manifested itself in a double-double stat line: 18 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in only 23 minutes.
Other reminiscent elements of the game included a pair of high-arcing Boatwright 3-pointers and a third from Stewart, plus a handful of McLaughlin floaters including his trademarked buzzer beater, which on Fridaycame at the half to give the Trojans a 42-15 lead.
But Rakocevic’s foul trouble was all-too-familiar. In 13 minutes, the sophomore amassed five fouls and had to leave the game.
“It’s a concern,” Enfield said of Rakocevic’s fouls. “He needs to learn to play with his feet, not his hands.”
Other new elements of tonight’s game include four USC debuts and staggering depth. After a year of anticipation, Thornton made a quick on-court impact, nailing a 3-pointer on his first shot attempt. He looked explosive throughout his 11-point performance. He did commit three turnovers, but his teammates are still adjusting to his temp0, which is different than McLaughlin’s.
“Derryck is really fast,” Metu said. “When he’s in the game, we’re playing more in transition. [McLaughlin] is fast, too, but he’s more surgical.”
Freshman Jordan Usher played 15 minutes in his debut but failed to score, as did Chuck O’Bannon, Jr. who played nine minutes. Victor Uyaelunmo debuted with less than five minutes left in the game, scoring 4 points from the free throw line.