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Trojans take control early, cruise to easy victory

Trojans take control early, cruise to easy victory
USC guard Jordan McLaughlin, right, goes up for a layup against New Orleans forward Erik Thomas. (Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

So early, yet so enticing. So promising, yet so little to really measure them against.

The USC Trojans may be uncertain exactly what kind of team they will evolve into, but they do know they are 4-0 after Tuesday’s easy 88-54 victory over New Orleans at the Galen Center.

They appear long, athletic, very willing to share the ball and to play smothering defense. That all proved too much for the Privateers (1-3), who fell behind early and never came close to recovering.

The Trojans took control with a 15-0 run midway into the second half. Those three-pointers they knocked down with regularity last season (and were unreliable during their first three games) suddenly began dropping.

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USC made 11 of 25 three-pointers, picked up 15 steals, received offensive contributions throughout the lineup and held New Orleans to 34.4 percent shooting.

All very impressive, but the quality of the opponent still left questions.

“We’re very young,” USC Coach Andy Enfield said. “We’re still trying to find our rotation. See what players can do under pressure.

"Our coaching staff is very excited about our young team. Our freshmen are giving us production. We feel comfortable that we can put anyone in the game. We've had some games where we had to defend and rebound. I think our defense has been outstanding at times and we've rebounded the ball well."

USC has not played a Top 25 opponent yet, and may not until the conference seasons opens.

On Monday, however, all was well. USC received another balanced attack, with five different players scoring in double-figures, led by Elijah Stewart's 21 points. Newcomers are contributing early. Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron had 12 points, Jonah Mathews added 13 and De'Anthony Melton 10 points and five steals.

Melton is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound true freshman from Crespi High School who already looks extremely comfortable. He leads the Pac-12 in steals with 3.3 per game.

"De'Anthony does that all the time," Enfield said. "He has long arms, he anticipates, he's tough and he just has that nose for the ball. You can't teach that.

"We didn't recruit him as a scorer but as an all-around basketball player."

He added to an effective mix Tuesday for the Trojans. Point guard Jordan McLaughlin had 11 points and nine assists. Forward Chimezie Metu led USC with seven rebounds. Everybody seemed to get into the act, the Trojans pushing their lead to 30 points 10 minutes into the second half.

"We just let everyone play," Stewart said. "We don't force anyone to do anything, just play basketball. We don't ball hog. Who's ever open shoots it.

"It's kind of a democracy. It's not like there's one person who rules. It's a comfortable environment."

The Trojans were able to roll over the Privateers despite forward Bennie Boatwright struggling in his second game after he missed the first two — and most of the past two months —  because of a sore hip and then later a sore back.

Boatwright averaged 11.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season as a freshman.

"He's out of rhythm," Enfield said. "He's getting back in shape. He just needs to play minutes and get that confidence back. Everyone knows he's an outstanding basketball player so we're not concerned. We know he can shoot the ball at a high level."

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