USC men's basketball team appears to have all the pieces, even while missing a big one

Before the season began, Jordan McLaughlin noted that USC’s basketball team had a dynamic offense.

“We have so many weapons,” he said.

It was a new experience for USC, accustomed for years to a place in or near the Pac-12 Conference basement.

McLaughlin was asked how he, the senior point guard, would keep everybody happy.

He did not respond by saying he would spread the ball around. He did not talk about involving everybody. He said USC just had to win.

"That's why the [Golden State] Warriors are so good,” he said. “They don't care who's scoring as long as they end up with a win. That's all they care about."

USC is 3-0 heading into Wednesday’s game against Lehigh, and McLaughlin carried the Trojans there by following the philosophy he set forth during preseason practices. Sometimes he has distributed the ball, as he did in USC’s second game against North Dakota State when forward Bennie Boatwright scored a career-high 28 points, mostly inside the paint.

Other times, McLaughlin has needed to score. At Vanderbilt on Sunday, he had one of the best games of his career. He scored 35 points with four assists.

Trailing by three points on USC’s last possession of regulation, McLaughlin kept the shot for himself. He spotted up from deep behind the three-point arc and drained a shot that sent the game into overtime.

Sunday’s game, a road contest against an NCAA tournament team from last season, showed how valuable a senior point guard can be. Perhaps more striking than McLaughlin’s point total was this: USC turned the ball over just once in the second half and overtime.

"Now that we got a more experienced team, a deeper team, it gives us an advantage over our opponents,” McLaughlin said. “So we've just got to put it all together."

The game also showed that USC has work to do on defense. USC suffocated Vanderbilt at times, but those times were brief. At the end of the first half, USC went on a 15-0 run. Vanderbilt couldn't even register a shot in more than three and a half minutes. Yet for the game, Vanderbilt shot 51%, and 49% on three-pointers.

USC could benefit from the return of guard De’Anthony Melton, a strong defender whose status remains in limbo as USC investigates his eligibility. Melton traveled late to the game at Vanderbilt but was not in uniform.

NEXT UP

USC VS. LEHIGH

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Galen Center

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio 690.

Update: Chimezie Metu was impressive inside against Vanderbilt, with 23 points and eight rebounds and demonstrated a new tendency to shoot from the perimeter. He made one of two three-point attempts. Elijah Stewart had a quiet evening with nine points but registered his 1,000th career point. Lehigh (3-1) finished second in the Patriot League last season at 20-12. Lance Tejada leads the team with 15.8 points per game and five players score in double figures.

zach.helfand@latimes.com

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

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