No. 24 USC tries to stay unbeaten vs. Troy

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Friday, December 16, 2016

USC will try to maintain its unbeaten record and its spot in the national rankings when the 24th-ranked Trojans play host to Troy as part of the Las Vegas Classic on Saturday at the Galen Center in Los Angeles.

USC (9-0) is off to its best start since going 16-0 to begin the 1970-71 season. The Trojans are still undefeated despite the absence of Bennie Boatwright, who is out with a sprained medial collateral ligament.

Troy (6-4) won three in a row and four of its last five following a three-game losing streak in November. The team's only setback during that stretch was an 80-74 loss to South Florida.

USC moved into the national rankings this week after beating Pepperdine 93-67 on Sunday. The team made 12 3-pointers in that contest and set a school record with 14 blocked shots.

Elijah Stewart made a career-high seven 3-pointers and tied his career high with four blocked shots in the win over Pepperdine. Jordan McLaughlin scored 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting, Nick Rakocevic had a career-high 13 points and Chimezie Metu recorded his third double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

"Elijah has been outstanding all year," USC coach Andy Enfield said. "He has added a lot to his game. He is becoming a more complete basketball player. We challenged him to do that and so far, he is doing a nice job."

Enfield praised his players for persevering despite the absences of Boatwright and Charles Buggs, who was held out with a strained hamstring. USC announced on Dec. 1 that Boatwright would miss six weeks with a sprained MCL.

Boatwright was injured late in USC's 76-55 victory over San Diego on Nov. 30. He was averaging 10.8 points and four rebounds per game. Boatwright was one of 20 players named to the preseason watch list for the 2017 Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award.

"We played well offensively and defensively," Enfield said. "It's nice to start 9-0. We had two guys out, so we had to play different lineups and combinations, but we played well and hard."

Troy is coming off a resounding 114-52 victory over Point University. It was the team's highest-scoring game since opening the season with a 135-76 victory over Toccoa Falls.

Jordon Varnado scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting against Point University. DeVon Walker had a career-high 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Shawn Hopkins recorded his second career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Troy coach Phil Cunningham said his team's performance against Point was similar to its effort in the season opener against Toccoa Falls. Six days later, Troy suffered a 74-51 loss to UAB that marked the start of a three-game losing streak, but the team seems to have recovered, averaging 95 points in the last three contests.

"If you go back and look at the Toccoa Falls game, we played so loose offensively," Cunningham said following the win over Point. "We were so loose and took the first shot available. I told (assistant coach) Marcus Grant that game was going to hurt us and it did when we played a good defensive team on the road in UAB. I told the guys tonight that I wanted to see two things: let's make sure we're the hardest playing team and that we share the ball. I thought we did both of those tonight."