LOS ANGELES — After a sluggish start in its Pac-12 Conference opener against Washington on Friday, Southern California rebounded Sunday night with a renewed sense of urgency and cruised to a win.
Elijah Stewart scored 17 points and Bennie Boatwright added 13 points to lead the Trojans to an 89-71 victory over Washington State.
“We knew our assignments and we met their shooters in transition and took away what they do best,” Stewart added. “We felt there was an urgency to this game after a hard loss to Washington on Friday”.
Trojans coach Andy Enfield said his team was more focused.
“It was a good win for us after we stumbled two days ago against Washington,” Enfield said. “We were more focused, we had 10 steals and had 23 assists and had blocked shots and played better defense.
“We had six guys in double figures. This is an experienced group of upper classmen and they know what it takes to win. They’ve been there before and they know what they have to do. On Friday we didn’t do what we needed to do to win, but tonight we did what it took”.
The Cougars shot under just 40 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers.
After starting the season 6-0, WSU (8-6, 0-2) has lost six of its last eight games. The Cougars have lost five straight to USC (10-5, 1-1).
Nick Rakocevic scored 12 points and had nine rebounds, Jonah Mathews added 11 points and Jordan Usher scored 10 for the Trojans. Jordan McLaughlin, who came in averaging 7.8 assists per game (No. 5 in the nation), finished with 10 points and 11 assists.
“We played with more energy and played hard with urgency,” McLaughlin said. “We were more aggressive and played a whole 40 minutes. We know what we are capable of and we haven’t shown it yet this season and we know what we need to do to be a top tier team”.
Malachi Flynn led the Cougars with 21 points and Carter Skaggs had 18.
USC never trailed, went on an 11-0 run that gave the Trojans a 13-point lead fewer than six minutes in and held the Cougars scoreless for a five-plus minutes in the opening half. Stewart capped the surge by converting two free throws with 14:18 remaining and USC led 17-4.
Chimezie Metz, USC’s leading scorer, was disqualified from the game after committing a flagrant foul against Skaggs with 5:43 left in the first half. Metz, averaging 18.6 points per game, left the game after scoring seven points and with USC leading 33-19.
“I didn’t see it. They said there was contact on the shot,” Enfield said. “We’ll take a look at it and if there was poor sportsmanship, we’ll address it.”
WSU immediately went on an 11-0 run and cut its deficit to three points following a basket by Flynn with 2:56 to go in the half. But the Trojans countered with an 8-2 run to build a 41-31 lead at the break.
Stewart led USC with 10 points in the first half as the Trojans shot 43.2 percent. The Cougars shot 34.5 percent and were led by Robert Franks with 9 points.
WSU trimmed the lead to 52-44 after a 3-pointer by Flynn early in the second half, but Shaqquan Aaron’s 3-pointer highlighted a Trojans 17-2 run, which propelled USC to a 69-46 lead with 10 minutes to play. USC cruised from that point.
The Trojans, who outrebounded WSU 39-26, are 74-48 all-time against the Cougars.
“I knew we would get a different team tonight than Washington played on Friday,” Cougars coach Ernie Kent said. “They took us out of our game. They have tremendous depth, shooters and experience and they played like a final four team tonight. We need to take a deep breath and go back home and get ready for the Huskies.”
WSU: “USC is a veteran team and they are going to make us play possession by possession,” Cougars coach Ernie Kent said. “You can’t duplicate that in practice, we just have to go through the experience.” Skaggs has made 10 of 19 3’s in the last two games. Freshman forward Drick Bernstine, WSU’s leading rebounder this season, returned after missing one game due to an injury and grabbed seven rebounds.
USC: The Trojans completed a stretch of eight games in the last 18 days, going 6-2. USC has scored 80 or more points in eight of its last nine games. Sophomore Derryck Thornton returned to action for the first time since he suffered a dislocated right shoulder in practice on Nov. 28 and scored two points.
MELTON SUSPENSION UPDATE
USC sophomore forward De’Anthony Melton has missed all 15 games thus far this season and remains suspended pending an alleged violations investigation. “As for De’Anthony, there isn’t anything new to say. He’s a terrific kid and we’re just remaining hopeful,” Enfield said.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A HALF MAKES
WSU is a different team in the second half compared to the first half this season. The Cougars are averaging 42.7 points in the second half and only 33.2 points in the opening half.
COUGS FIRING FROM DOWNTOWN
WSU leads the Pac-12 Conference in 3s made per game (12.1/170 total) and is ranked second nationally behind William & Mary who averages 12.3 per game. The Cougars have made 12 or more 3’s in 10 of their 14 games thus far this season.
WSU: The Cougars open a three-game home stand beginning Saturday against Washington.
USC: The Trojans travel to Berkley and takes on Cal on Thursday.