Elijah Stewart was struggling like never before.
The USC freshman, who starred at Westchester High, entered Saturday’s game against Oregon State in a near-two-month shooting slump.
But with guard Jordan McLaughlin sidelined because of injury, Stewart took full advantage of his first start in a month.
He made five three-point shots and scored a game-high 19 points as the Trojans ended a nine-game losing streak with a 68-55 victory over Oregon State at the Galen Center.
“I felt the stroke,” Stewart said.
The victory, USC’s first since Jan. 7, improved the Trojans’ record to 10-15 overall and 2-11 in the Pac-12 Conference.
The sense of relief, on the court and in the stands, was palpable as Trojans fans showered the players with cheers at the end of the game.
“This is a big game for us because our players need to prove to themselves that they can compete at this level — and also have a goal to win some more games the rest of the year,” Coach Andy Enfield said.
The 6-foot-5 Stewart arrived at USC with plenty of confidence after being named the Los Angeles City Section player of the year.
On Dec. 21 at Boston College, he made all 10 of his shots, including two three-pointers. But he had been mired in a slump since.
Stewart entered the game having made only eight of 50 shots in conference games.
“It gets like that sometimes,” he said. “You’ve just got to keep going.”
Against Oregon State, Stewart did not hesitate. He scored the Trojans’ first points on a three-pointer less than 90 seconds into the game.
“When you make a first shot it always feels good to know that you’ve already got one down, you don’t have to worry about trying to find it,” he said.
The tentativeness of the last two months disappeared. Stewart’s body language changed with each succeeding shot. He made six of 12, including five of 10 three pointers.
“When I made that first three, I was like, ‘All these shots I’ve been shooting [during practice] are about to come to the game because I’ve got the touch for the ball now.’ ”
Stewart also had three blocks, three steals and four assists, including an alley-oop pass off the backboard with about a minute left that Julian Jacobs slammed through the rim for an exclamation point on the victory.
“Tonight felt like I was playing in high school,” Stewart said.
Jacobs, who scored 14 points, also finished a game-turning play in the final seconds of the first half. Strahinj Gavrilovic deflected an Oregon State pass to Katin Reinhardt, who passed to Jacobs for buzzer-beating dunk that pulled USC to within 28-26.
“It was a huge momentum shift,” said Jacobs, who had seven assists, three blocks and two steals. “Going into the locker room we were really excited because we had been in a rut.
“We were just really pumped up.”
The Trojans took the lead about two minutes into the second half on a basket by Reinhardt, who scored 16 points. They pulled away and held off threats from the Beavers (16-9, 7-6 in conference play).
USC has five Pac-12 games remaining, including next week’s trip at the Arizona schools. The Trojans finish with home games against the Washington schools and the finale at UCLA.
Enfield said McLaughlin’s availability was “probably a week to week” situation.
So Stewart and Jacobs could have more opportunities.
“He and Julian made so many improvements in the last three, four weeks,” Enfield said. “We’re hoping this carries over.”