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USC halts three-game losing streak with victory over Santa Clara 82-59

USC halts three-game losing streak with victory over Santa Clara 82-59
USC forward Chimezie Metu passes the ball over two Santa Clara defenders during a game Thursday at Galen Center. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A half-dozen NBA scouts sprawled in an anonymous row of seats behind one of the baskets at Galen Center.

The serious-faced men balanced cellphones, bottles of water and notebooks covered with the pebbled texture of a basketball Thursday night. None of the announced crowd of 2,712 paid attention to them.

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But each time USC junior Chimezie Metu touched the basketball, the men scribbled in their notebooks. They had good reason. Behind an all-around effort from Metu, USC defeated Santa Clara 82-59 to end a three-game losing streak.

“Chimezie was dominant at times tonight,” USC coach Andy Enfield said.

The game wasn’t close. The 6-foot-11 Metu, projected as a top-20 selection in next year’s NBA draft, made certain of it.

Take the 1 minute, 17-second flurry early in the first half. Metu hit a jump shot. He slammed the ball home off an alley-oop pass from senior Jordan McLaughlin. Then Metu hit another jumper.

The rout was on before the crowd had settled into its seats, pushing aside, at least for one night, memories of the painful string of losses to Texas A&M, Southern Methodist and Oklahoma that put a question mark on a promising season.

“When we’re making shots, we’re hard to beat,” Metu said.

Metu, who finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots, seemed to be everywhere.

He made midrange jumpers. He bounced around the court like a pogo stick. He left the basket shaking after dunks.

The announcer shouted “Super Mezie!” after each bucket.

Santa Clara, which had lost six of its last eight games, had no answer for Metu — or USC’s other big men.

Senior Elijah Stewart didn’t start because of what Enfield termed a minor violation of team rules for tardiness. Sophomore Nick Rakocevic replaced the guard.

Combined with junior Bennie Boatwright, that gave USC an imposing front line of three players standing 6 feet 10 or taller.

“We’re a deadly trio out there,” Rakocevic said. “It makes the game so much easier for all three of us.”

Boatwright chipped in 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Rakocevic had 16 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out — a nagging problem that has limited his on-court contributions.

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McLaughlin added 10 assists and nine points.

USC played without sophomore De’Anthony Melton, held out for the eighth straight game. The school is investigating his eligibility after federal prosecutors alleged a family friend accepted $5,000 in August to steer him to a sports agent and financial advisor. Melton hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing and the school described the move as precautionary.

Metu, however, wore a white T-shirt supporting his sidelined teammate to the postgame news conference. One phrase covered the chest in black letters: “#FREEDMELT.”

NEXT UP

VS. UC SANTA BARBARA

When: Sunday 5 p.m.

Where: Galen Center

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 710.

Update: The Gauchos have won seven straight games under first-year head coach and former Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack. … Sophomore Max Heidegger averages 23.4 points for the Gauchos, up from 7.6 points last season. … USC is 13-1 all-time against Santa Barbara.

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