After a season-opening win at home against Cal State Northridge, the USC men’s basketball team had dropped two straight contests by a combined margin of five points.
It was, and still is, searching for an identity and looking for a true No. 1 offensive scoring threat. But against South Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational third place game, sophomore point guard Maurice Jones answered the call.
USC (3-4) escaped with a 63-60 victory against the Gamecocks behind 28 points from Jones. Despite coming into the contest shooting just 41 percent from the field, Jones converted on 9-of-15 field goals, including 7-of-7 from behind the 3-point line, which set a USC single-game record for the most 3-pointers made without a miss. At one point, he scored 14 consecutive points for the Trojans, turning a one-point deficit into a five-point lead with six minutes to play in the game.
Redshirt sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon registered 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, while junior forward Aaron Fuller recorded six points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
The Trojans played, arguably, its toughest opponent this season Friday against UNLV, as the Rebels entered the contest averaging 83 points per contest. USC held UNLV to just 66 points on 41 percent shooting — both season lows — but it was not enough as the Trojans dropped the game 66-55. USC shot 52 percent from the field, but Dedmon and Fuller both fouled out, with Dedmon playing just five minutes. The 7-foot center also picked up his first technical foul of his collegiate career midway through the second half with the Trojans leading by two. After that, however, the Rebels went on an 8-0 run and never relinquished the lead en route to victory.
Freshman guard Byron Wesley recorded a career-high 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting and also grabbed five rebounds. Fuller, despite playing just 17 minutes, also scored 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
USC topped a winless Morgan State team 65-62, receiving a career-high 19-point effort from Fuller on Nov. 22, the second game of the tournament. The Trojans trailed by eight at halftime, and by as much as 12 points six minutes into the contest. On consecutive 3-point baskets by junior guard Gregg Allen five minutes into the second half, USC took the lead at 40-38.
The Trojans would lead by as many as nine points midway through the second half, but the Bears battled back, even taking the lead momentarily at 61-60 with four minutes left to play. With 1:57 remaining in a 62-62 contest, Jones split a pair of free throws. On the next possession, Jones added a runner in the lane to give the Trojans to a three-point lead. Fuller later sealed the victory to help USC snap a three-game skid. Jones finished with 18 points and six assists while Allen came off the bench to score 14 points, including 3-of-5 from the 3-point line.
USC returns to the court Wednesday night at UC Riverside for a 7 p.m. matchup.