With six of nine players suiting up in cardinal and gold for the first time, the USC men’s basketball team looked to identify its offensive strengths and weaknesses in the season opener Friday night at Galen Center.
But in the aftermath of a 66-59 win over Cal State Northridge, in which the Trojans (1-0) went 0 for 15 from beyond the arc, USC coach Kevin O’Neill could not define his team’s offensive identity.
“I still do not know,” O’Neill said. “For the third year in a row, we have a new group, and this is the newest group that we have had.”
With the USC guards struggling against the Matadors’ (0-1) zone defense, the Trojans worked the ball into the post, scoring 30 of its 66 points in the paint. Sophomore forward Dewayne Dedmon scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while junior forward Aaron Fuller recorded 16 points and nine rebounds.
Sophomore guard Maurice Jones, who only shot 2-13 in the game, got to the free throw line down the stretch, making 9 of 11 free throws in the second half. He finished with 16 points and three assists.
“We were rudderless until [Jones] took over in the last four minutes and went into attack mode,” O’Neill said.
The Matadors struggled mightily offensively early, making only one of their first 19 field goal attempts. The Trojans took advantage, jumping out to a 14-4 lead to start the game, behind eight points from Dedmon.
Dedmon, however, picked up his second foul with 8:02 left in the first half, and remained on the bench until halftime. The Matadors managed to cut the lead to four points, but Fuller scored seven of his nine first-half points with Dedmon sidelined to send the Trojans into the locker room leading 29-21.
USC extended the lead to the nine points in the second half, but with Dedmon limited after picking up his third foul and by a cramp in his right leg, the Matadors battled back to tie the score at 42, and eventually take their first lead of the game at 52-50. Jones, who has played the most minutes at USC despite only being a sophomore, scored seven of the Trojans’ final 14 points to clinch the victory.
The Trojans are back in action Monday at home against Nebraska at 7:30 p.m.
In the last matchup of the two teams last November, USC held a 20-point lead in the first half before falling 60-58 in Lincoln, Neb.
The Cornhuskers return four starters from the team that went 19-13 last season. The only active Trojans that competed in the game against Nebraska last season are Jackson, Jones and Strangis.
“Right now we are nowhere near where we need to be to play the kind of schedule that we are playing,” O’Neill said. “But we are going to get better and improve.”