Sunday’s game began like most do for the Men of Troy — in a dead heat. At halftime, the Trojans took a 32-30 lead to the locker room. After the break, Oregon State hung tight for as long as they could, trailing by only 4 with six minutes to play. Then, the Trojans broke loose, ultimately winning by 13 points, 72-59.
“Our defense was excellent,” head coach Andy Enfield said. USC (19-9, 10-5) held OSU (13-13, 5-9) to 3-15 from 3-point range and 1-6 in the second half. Additionally, the Beavers committed 12 turnovers to nine assists while the Trojans committed nine turnovers to 16 assists. Simply put, USC played superior basketball.
USC’s offense started slowly but accelerated as the game continued. Senior Elijah Stewart scored 17 points in the second half to finish with a season-high 28 for the game. He was 9-10 from the field and 5-5 from beyond the arc.
“You hit this mood where everything just feels good,” Stewart said about his rhythm. “Your wrist is clicking. Your elbow is locking where it’s supposed to. Your jump is right. Everything feels natural.”
Stewart’s five 3-point field goals advances his career total to 231 — one behind Lodrick Stewart (2004-2007) for the most in USC history.
Aside from his 3-pointers, Stewart ignited the Galen Center with four slam dunks, which he credited to senior guard Jordan McLaughlin.
“JMac was throwing the lobs in the right place,” Stewart said. “The goal just felt bigger.”
McLaughlin notched his second consecutive double-double with 13 points and 11 assists. He did not cite urgency after last week’s losses as a reason for his stellar week. Rather, he likes the defense the Oregon schools play.
“The two teams from Oregon play a match-up zone,” McLaughlin said. “I just go with the flow of the game.”
Luckily for McLaughlin and USC, Stewart was converting passes into made baskets.
Other than Stewart, the Trojans shot 0-9 from 3-point range; sophomore guard Jonah Mathews missed five 3s and finished scoreless.
All the players feel pressure to play better now that junior forward Bennie Boatwright is out for the season, Stewart said. Boatwright banged his left knee on a play in the second half of Thursday’s game and a recent MRI revealed serious swelling around his patella ligament.
USC tips off its final road trip Wednesday night at Colorado. The Buffaloes have a Pac-12 record of 15-12, 7-8. They are led by a dynamic backcourt duo — freshman McKinley Wright and senior George King — who combine for 27.6 points per game. As a team, the Buffs average 72 points per game. In terms of defense, Enfield would like to keep them around that figure.
“The margin of error is so small this year because the depth of the league is good top to bottom,” Enfield said.
Naturally, winning on the road is tougher. Although the Trojans are 7-1 at home in conference, they are 3-4 away from the Galen Center. USC needs a good showing in Colorado and, subsequently, Utah, to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume and to keep its shot at a Pac-12 title alive.
To win on the road, McLaughlin said, “We gotta stick together. When it gets loud in other teams’ arenas, we gotta be able to calm the storm.”