USC’s backcourt is in motion as Trojans defeat Monmouth, 101-90

USC forward Elijah Stewart puts up a shot as Monmouth forward Diago Quinn defends during the second half. The Trojans won 101-90.

USC forward Elijah Stewart puts up a shot as Monmouth forward Diago Quinn defends during the second half. The Trojans won 101-90.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Andy Enfield couldn’t help himself.

USC had just won its first two games for the first time since he was named coach, partly by doing something even UCLA hadn’t: beat Monmouth at home.

So, after the 101-90 win Monday, Enfield set up his own punch line by praising the surprisingly dangerous Hawks.

“I wouldn’t want to see them in March,” he said, waiting a tick. “Actually, I would want to see them in March.”


For the first time in a long time, the Trojans have a reason to be confident. On Monday, they shot their way to their first triple-digit performance since 2002. By the 100th point, everyone in the Galen Center was standing.

“They say first to 100 wins,” point guard Jordan McLaughlin said. “I guess that was true tonight.”

Monmouth mounted the same spirited road performance it had against UCLA. Again, the Hawks muscled their way to the free-throw line. Again, they bombarded their opponent with three-pointers. They made 10 of 26 tries, and Justin Robinson led with 28 points.

USC weathered it all with confident guard play. In a tight final five minutes, Enfield opted for four guards — McLaughlin, Julian Jacobs, Elijah Stewart and Katin Reinhardt.

“I just figured we’re going to go with our four best offensive players,” he said. Later, he cited a fifth, Nikola Jovanovic. “We’re going to win or lose with that group,” he said.

USC’s offense was balanced. Five players scored in double figures. Three scored at least 20: McLaughlin (22), Jovanovic (20) and Stewart (20). Jacobs scored 19.


And they displayed ball movement largely absent last season. During the off-season, McLaughlin said, the team binged on clips of the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks, teams known for their dizzying ball movement.

“We want to imitate the way they play,” McLaughlin said. “Our motto is play fast, play smart and play unselfish.”

The Trojans did all three to start the game. They seized a 16-point first-half lead, but Monmouth stormed back.

Late in the first half, Monmouth took big chunks out of the Trojans’ lead with a stream of threes. Deon Jones scored 10 points in a row for Monmouth. The last three points, on an up-and-under finish with a foul, gave Monmouth the lead.

USC led by just one point with four minutes remaining. Then, in the span of three possessions, Jacobs made a reverse layup, quick ball movement gave Reinhardt a corner three-pointer and Jacobs set up Stewart for another three. The lead ballooned to eight.

It was a run that the Trojans rarely saw last season.

“The players are just better basketball players,” Enfield said.

Monmouth Coach King Rice said his team’s performance “wasn’t a letdown” from its win over UCLA.


So does the win mean USC is better than UCLA?

“We’re worried about our own team,” Enfield said.

And as for his team, there is cause for optimism.

Dozens of students from a USC journalism class packed the postgame press conference. Enfield noticed the big media presence.

“Wow,” he said with a smile, “it looks like we won a national championship.”


Saturday vs. New Mexico, 7:30 p.m., Galen Center, Pac-12 Networks — The Trojans picked up one of their best road victories last season, 66-54 at New Mexico. The Lobos, who finished with a 15-16 record, will look to return the favor.