Trojans run out of gas in second half
Playing out of rhythm and with a limited bench, the USC menâs basketball team saw a 12-point second-half lead slip away against Loyola Marymount on Saturday and lost 67-59 in its second game of the season.
Following a season-opening victory against UC Riverside, the Trojans (1-1) looked sluggish to start the game against the Lions (2-3) and fell behind early.
Having lost a large contingent of starters from last season, offensive cohesiveness was a concern, but in its dominating wire-to-wire victory over UC Riverside the teamâs coordination was a non-issue.
On Saturday, however, the teamâs inexperience and lack of depth was exposed as the Trojans fell behind 16-8 early. Led by forward Drew Viney and guard Jarred DuBois, the Lions were able to get open looks on the offensive end.
LMU also limited the Trojansâ go-to option, senior forward Dwight Lewis, who was held to four points in the first half.
After more than 10 minutes had elapsed in the first half, the Trojans finally found their rhythm on the floor and went on a run that put them up eight points heading into halftime.
Point guard Donte Smith led the charge late in the first half in the redshirt juniorâs second career start at the position. His nine points on four-of-seven shooting were key in helping the Trojans rebound from their early funk.
Coming out of the break, the Trojans looked like they were headed toward another double-digit victory, especially after sophomore forward Nikola Vucevicâs dunk with 17:09 remaining in the game put the Trojans up a dozen on the suddenly tame Lions.
But after senior guard Dwight Lewis missed a corner 3-pointer that would have put the Trojans up 14 clanked off the side of the rim and redshirt junior forward Kasey Cunningham went down with an apparent leg injury, the flow of the game began to turn.
Smith, who was so integral to the Trojanâs success early in the game, saw his opportunities disappear as the Lion defense locked down on the point guard. Smith was unable to make a single field goal in the second half.
USC coach Kevin OâNeill blamed the second-half letdown not only on increased pressure from LMU, but on fatigue as well.
âThey hounded Donte and he caved under pressure a little bit,â OâNeill said. âWhen you get tired and you havenât played those kinds of minutes before, you get tired quicker.â
Loyola Marymount took advantage of the suddenly quiet Trojan offense and went on a 16-4 run, turning an eight-point Trojan lead into a four-point deficit.
Vucevic, who finished the game with career highs in points and rebounds, helped the Trojans tie the game at 54, converting a layup and then ripping away a rebound off a Lion miss to set up junior guard Marcus Simmons, who drew a foul and sank the free throws.
The Trojans were never able to claim the lead, however, as the Lions went on another run, outscoring USC in the final minutes 13-5 and closing out the victory.
âWe had a chance to put the game in our control,â OâNeill said. âWe kind of caved in a little bit.â
With a chance at starting the season 2-0 squandered, OâNeill was still mildly pleased with the effort put in by his depleted roster.
âOur guys played hard, we just didnât do enough to win the game, and defensively we had a letdown near the end of the game,â OâNeill said. âYou just canât let that happen.â