Just two days after blowing a 15-point lead against Washington State, the USC men’s basketball team (12-7, 4-3) showed it could learn from its past mistakes by throttling Washington (12-7, 3-5) 87-61 at the Galen Center on Saturday night.
Redshirt senior forward Marcus Johnson led the Trojans with a career-high 22 points, including a highlight reel-worthy alley-oop dunk off of a half-court lob from redshirt senior guard Mike Gerrity that ignited the home crowd. Senior guard Dwight Lewis added 19 points, scoring 14 of them in the second half after sitting out a large part of the first half because of foul trouble.
“We’re fighting to win a Pac-10 championship,” junior forward Alex Stepheson said. “We’re just learning from every game. We really stressed that [tonight] to cut down turnovers, just play good defense, and take good shots.”
The Trojans showed off an offensive attack rarely seen from the team this season, scoring a season-high 87 points.
“We looked to push the ball, but defense is our staple,” Johnson said. “When we get stops and we rebound the ball well, we’re able to push the ball and get those kind of offensive opportunities.”
The Trojans opened the game with a double-digit lead for the third game in a row, leading the Huskies 19-6 after just seven minutes of play. They didn’t let up from there, posting 42 points in the first half as Gerrity scored the Trojans’ final eight points before the break.
USC’s defense continued to shine as Washington star Quincy Pondexter was held to just two points in the first half, shooting 25 percent from the field.
USC also showed that it could spread the ball around effectively, opening the second half with all five starters scoring in the first seven minutes. Eighty-two of the points came from the Trojans’ starting five players, who also accounted for 28 of the team’s 32 rebounds.
The combination of a high-energy offense coupled with stifling defense proved to be too much for the Huskies, as the Trojans shot 60 percent from the 3-point line and forced seven turnovers in the half.
“Our guys did a great job of moving the ball,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “And when we defend like we did [on Saturday], we always have a chance to win.”
But the single most influential point of the game came from Johnson with 6:16 left to play and the Trojans up 23 points. Off a missed shot by the Huskies, Gerrity ran the ball to half court before throwing up a long lob pass toward a streaking Johnson. Johnson leaped from several feet beyond the lower block, caught the ball in midair and dunked it, bringing the crowd of 5,876 to its feet.
“I mean, if [Gerrity] throws it up, I’ll go get it,” Johnson said. “That’s the agreement we have.”
The win moved USC into a five-way tie for second place in the Pac-10, while the Huskies dropped to eighth place and are now 0-5 on the road this season. The loss comes just two days after the Huskies fell to UCLA on a buzzer-beater.
But according to O’Neill, the Trojans won’t be satisfied until they are at the top of the Pac-10.
“I’m frankly pissed that we aren’t in first, because we let a game get away from us the other night with a 15-point lead,” O’Neill said. “I know our guys are upset about that. That’s my hope for our team, that when we do have some tough times, we learn from them and become a better team and better individuals.”