Early on, it’s been a tale of two narratives for the No. 10 men’s basketball team.
In USC’s season-opener against Cal State Fullerton (0-2), the Trojans looked like a top-10 team nationally, as they routed and doubled up the Titans in dominant fashion, 84-42.
But in USC’s most recent showing, they appeared to struggle to surmount a scrappy, and possibly overlooked, North Dakota State (0-2) team. Ultimately, USC mounted a 24-9 run to finish regulation before coming away with the 75-65 victory over the Bison this past Monday. Unlike the win over Fullerton, the performance against North Dakota State did not feel like that of a top-10 team.
“It was good to see our team be able to pull out a late rally and come away with a win like that (against North Dakota State),” said senior guard Jordan McLaughlin, who scored 12 points against the Bison. “But it’s still a lesson to us. You can’t come out and give anyone a chance to beat you. You’ve got to come out playing hot.”
USC will continue its non-conference schedule as it takes on Vanderbilt this Sunday in what will be the team’s first road trip of the season.
The Commodores have split their first two games of the regular season, and are coming off a 69-60 loss to Belmont on Monday. Vanderbilt will host UNC Asheville on Friday before taking on the Trojans at home on Sunday.
USC’s first Power-5 opponent of the regular season will be Vanderbilt this Sunday. Vanderbilt, which has qualified for the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, returns three of its four top scorers from last season. Sunday’s matchup between the Trojans and Commodores will be the first time the two programs play one another since the 1975 season.
“We’re looking forward to the first road trip,” junior forward Chimezie Metu said. “[Vanderbilt] is a good team who plays in a strong conference. It’s a good early test for us that will help us be ready for the later games this season.”
In USC’s win over North Dakota State this past Monday, junior forward Bennie Boatwright recorded a career-high 28 points. Boatwright is the team’s leading scorer through two games this season (20.5 points per game).
“[Boatwright’s] improved in the offseason,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “He’s more explosive, he’s quicker and he’s a year older.”
USC’s season-opening victory over Fullerton saw Metu record his first double-double of the season. Metu totaled a game-high 18 points (7-of-14), and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Last season saw Metu lead the team in rebounds, averaging 7.8 rebounds per game. The trend has continued, as Metu leads USC in rebounds through two games this season (8.5 rebounds per game).
In the paint, Metu will have to deal with Vanderbilt senior forward Jeff Roberson this Sunday. Roberson, who is averaging a double-double through two games this season (13 points, 11 rebounds), is the Commodores’ primary weapon in the paint.
Sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton, who has not played in any of the Trojans’ games thus far due to what the team has called an eligibility issue, will reportedly be held out again against Vanderbilt.
“We’re very hopeful that he will be back out there as soon as possible,” Enfield said when asked about a possible return date for Melton.
Melton, who started last season for USC, is being held out in the wake of the team’s involvement in an FBI investigation on associate head coach Tony Bland, in which Bland allegedly facilitated payments to two USC players or recruits.
The Trojans look to get off to a strong start on the road this weekend against Vanderbilt. Last season’s USC team went 6-5 on the road.
“Vanderbilt was an NCAA Tournament team, and it’s always a tough place to play at,” Enfield said. “We’re excited to see if we can go and get a quality win on the road.”