After the 42-36 loss to Cal Poly on Saturday, a fan approached freshman guard Alexis Moore and told him to keep his head up.
“I will try,” Moore responded.
For the third straight game, a USC men’s basketball game went down to the wire, and for the third straight game, the Trojans (1-3) were on the wrong end of the final score.
Coming off of a double-overtime loss to Nebraska and a narrow two-point defeat at San Diego State, the Trojans blew an eight-point lead in the second half against the Mustangs (2-1).
“Our guys should be embarrassed by their play in the second half,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “I would say maybe half of them are; the other half say it is [my] fault.”
Junior forward Aaron Fuller claimed to be one of the players affected by the defeat.
“I am definitely embarrassed by this loss,” Fuller said. “There are a lot of times where we zone out when [O’Neill] talks, but we need to zone in.”
Fuller paced the Trojans with 15 points and eight rebounds.
“Without Aaron, we would be in real trouble,” O’Neill said. “He has become the go-to guy for us.”
Despite USC’s height advantage, Cal Poly won the rebounding battle, 41-32, and grabbed more offensive rebounds, 16-6.
“Our guys are not blocking out,” O’Neill said. “We are just standing there watching the ball.”
Moore started the game for the first time at shooting guard, replacing senior guard Eric Strangis.
Sophomore point guard Maurice Jones finished with six points on 1-for-11 shooting, and sophomore forward Dewayne Dedmon had only one point.
The two teams employed contrasting offensive strategies.
Cal Poly relied on outside shooting. Seventeen of the Mustangs’ 29 shots in the first half were from beyond the arc, although they only made two. They finished the game shooting .161 percent from the 3-point line.
The Trojans, on the other hand, worked the ball into the post, scoring 12 points in the paint in the first half, and half of their 36 points in the post overall.
The unusual start time at 1 p.m. seemed to bother USC initially, but it allowed fans to watch the football game against Oregon at 5 p.m. Most other men’s basketball games had tipped off at 7 p.m. or later.
The Mustangs opened the game on a 6-0 run, as the Trojans missed their first five shots of the afternoon.
With Cal Poly leading 11-9, USC went on an 11-0 run. During that stretch, junior forward Aaron Fuller had seven of his nine first-half points, and the Trojans went into the locker room leading 20-13.
The Trojans extended the lead to as many as eight points in the second half, but the Mustangs battled back to regain the lead at 33-32.
The Trojans recorded 10 of their 12 turnovers in the second half and only made six of 11 free throws after halftime.
“We melted down in the second half,” O’Neill said. “We did not get the job done on the boards, and we certainly did not get the job done offensively in the second half.”
The Trojans do not have much of a break over the Thanksgiving holiday.
On Tuesday, USC hosts Morgan State at 7 p.m. The Bears (0-2) return four starters from a team that went 17-14 last season, led by junior forward Dewayne Jackson, who averaged 14.5 points per game.
The Trojans will travel to Las Vegas for two games as part of the Las Vegas Invitational. USC will compete against UNLV on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The winner of that game will advance to face the victor between No. 1 North Carolina and South Carolina on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and the two losing teams will play at 4:30 p.m.
“Right now we are a little out of sync, but we are going to get back in the lab, re-evaluate our goals, and get this thing back on track,” Moore said.