The growing pains are expected.
After dropping a double-overtime contest to Nebraska, the USC men’s basketball team has no time to think about what could have been, after squandering numerous opportunities to put the game away.
The USC men’s basketball team (1-1) will square off against San Diego State (3-1) tonight at the Viejas Arena in San Diego, Calif., at 7 p.m.
With such a young squad — nine players are either freshmen or sophomores and 10 did not play a single game for USC prior to this season — USC coach Kevin O’Neill understands the importance of getting his team focused on the next game because of a quick turnaround.
“We did everything but win the game [against Nebraska], and that’s unfortunate, but we have to get ready and play a turnaround game down at San Diego State,” O’Neill said. “It’s unfortunate we lost, but at the same time, I think we’re going to grow up from this. I think we’ll be a team that will get better because of it.”
Three of USC’s new faces — freshmen guards Alexis Moore and Byron Wesley and redshirt sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon — have all seen significant playing time in the Trojans’ first two contests. And each has had his moments of inconsistency.
Moore, after converting only 1-of-9 field goal attempts and committing two turnovers against Cal State Northridge, rebounded in his second game for USC against Nebraska, scoring 11 points.
Dedmon, on the other hand, committed two quick fouls in the first half against the Cornhuskers, forcing him to sit out nearly 10 minutes. After recording 16 points and eight rebounds in his USC debut against Northridge, he struggled against Nebraska, notching just four points on 1-of-6 shooting. Dedmon has been pegged as a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft, but even though he is getting recognition, the coaching staff believes there is still much room for improvement.
“[Dedmon] has had so much publicity without ever really earning it,” O’Neill said. “And that’s no knock on him at all. He doesn’t like the publicity. He has huge potential. He’s going to be a huge-time player. He’s going to play for money some day. Having said that, he’s not there yet.”
The Trojans are going through a transition stage after losing senior guard Jio Fontan to a season-ending knee injury, but the Aztecs are in a similar position. They lost four of their leading scorers from last season, after compiling a 34-3 record before losing to eventual NCAA champion Connecticut in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Guard Chase Tapley is the lone player from last year’s squad with starting experience and is averaging almost 22 points per contest.
On the other side, the Trojans’ lone holdover starter, sophomore guard Maurice Jones, is still transitioning to his new role in the USC offense. Before Fontan went down, Jones envisioned himself as more of a facilitator. Now, Jones is expected to reprise his role from high school as a prolific point scorer.
“Coming to college, I got back into more just being a point guard trying to pass, but I have to turn back into high school mode and score more,” Jones said. “That’s been an adjustment for me.”
With USC playing its third game of seven within the first 16 days of the season, there is no time to dwell on tough losses. Six of these seven games will be against teams that finished with winning records last season.
“It was tough to lose, but what we need to do is regroup and get ready to keep going because there’s no real break in the schedule for a team like ours,” O’Neill said.