Coming off an 87 point offensive onslaught in a season-opening victory against Coppin State, the USC men’s basketball team turned to its defense in a matchup against the Long Beach State 49ers on Tuesday, winning by a final score of 62-44.
The Trojans (2-0) were without sophomore Byron Wesley for the majority of the first half after the guard was charged with two fouls within the first two minutes of the game. They quickly went to redshirt junior forward Ari Stewart to pick up the scoring load, and Stewart obliged with eight first half points. He was aided by junior guard J.T. Terrell, who also put up eight first half points.
“We had a lot of good performances from a lot of guys,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “That’s what we hope this team ends up being about. We played hard.”
The 49ers tied things up at 35 apiece with a little more than 15 minutes remaining in the game following a 10-4 run. But USC never relinquished the lead, instead going on a 7-0 run of its own.
“We made our run in the second half with five bench guys in there,” O’Neill said. “… We’re hoping to develop some depth as this thing moves forward.”
Freshman guard Chass Bryan gave USC some quality minutes in the second half after senior guard Jio Fontan picked up his third foul. Bryan scored two baskets in the span of 24 seconds to help put the Trojans up by double-digits for the first time all night.
“That was exciting for me,” Bryan said. “Byron Wesley told me to just keep pushing it, and look to make plays, not be hesitant … the clock was coming down, and I just saw I had to put it up. I came right back down and did the same thing, it felt good.”
From there, USC was able to keep Long Beach State at bay, holding the 49ers to just 21.7 percent shooting in the second half. For the game, Long Beach State shot just 12-42 (28 percent) and seven of those makes were three pointers. They were held scoreless for over five minutes after knocking down a pair of free throws with 9:33 remaining.
“We just put more pressure on the ball, [made] them take tougher shots than in the first half,” senior forward Eric Wise said.
Junior center Dewayne Dedmon helped to seal things for good after USC went up by double-digits, converting on a tip dunk and taking a charge on the next possession. He finished the game with eight points and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes.
“I’m especially impressed with Dewayne Dedmon’s minutes,” O’Neill said. “He’s doing a fantastic job, our inside guys are doing a great job.”
USC’s depth was on full display for the second straight game, as 12 players made appearances at some point during the night. Nine of those players logged at least 10 minutes of action.
“[Coach O’Neill] talks about it every day — about who he’s going to sub in. I think he’s just going to go with who is doing well that night,” Wise said. “We’re so deep we have two players at every position.”
Three Trojans scored double-figures — Wise put up 10 points and 12 rebounds, Terrell added 10 points and Stewart finished with 10 points of his own. But O’Neill was especially impressed with his team’s composure against a squad that puts the pressure on defensively.
“Only 11 turnovers against a team that’s really an up-tempo defensive team … a very good team,” O’Neill said. “We feel fortunate to have won like we did.”
The Trojans will get a week off before traveling to Hawaii as part of the 2012 Maui Invitational. Their first opponent in the tournament will be the Illinois Fighting Illini, who are also off to a 2-0 start. Other participants include the No. 11 North Carolina Tar Heels, the Butler Bulldogs and the Texas Longhorns.
“I’m used to watching it, so I’m happy to be there and playing in it,” Wise said of the Maui Invitational. “I never thought I would.”