Offensive struggles plagued USC’s men’s basketball team in the squad’s first true road game of the season, as the Trojans only converted 37.5 percent of their shots in a 63-51 loss to Nebraska.
Perimeter defense was also a problem for USC (3-4), as Nebraska guard Ray Gallegos put on a shooting clinic, tallying 20 points while making six of 10 attempts from 3-point range to lead the Huskers (6-1) to victory.
Overall, Nebraska sank 11 of its 17 attempts from beyond the arc for an astronomical 3-point shooting percentage of 64.7 percent. On the season, USC has now allowed 53 3-point field goals in seven games. By comparison, the Trojans have only converted 34 3-pointers of their own.
“That’s a recipe for disaster on the road against good team like [Nebraska],” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “We have a bunch of guys that need to start feeling each other out on offense and defense.”
USC’s starting backcourt was comparatively inefficient. Junior guard J.T. Terrell led the Trojans with 14 points, but Terrell and senior guard Jio Fontan combined to make just nine of their 24 shots.
“I couldn’t say that anybody played well tonight,” O’Neill said. “We’ve got great guys who want to do something to make a play, but we need to play a little more off each other instead of guys trying to do it themselves.”
Terrell came into the game leading USC with 12.5 points per game, but is shooting only 30.7 percent on field goal attempts, and Fontan’s statistics (22.6 percent shooting, 7.7 points per game) are even worse.
The Trojans started out the season by scoring 87 points against Coppin State, but have averaged only 60 points per game in six contests since then.
“Some of that is just not making shots,” O’Neill said. “[But] we’re not together enough yet offensively or defensively to win games we need to win.”
The two teams traded runs throughout the first half.
USC took an early 5-2 lead, but from there, the Huskers went on a 10-2 run as the Trojans struggled through a cold shooting streak that saw them make only one of their 10 shots over an eight-minute stretch.
The Trojans struck back with an 11-2 run to take a 18-14 lead with 7:13 remaining, but some timely shooting from beyond the arc sparked Nebraska through the rest of the first half.
Nebraska guard David Rivers made a 3-pointer that jump-started an 8-0 run.
Then, after USC forward James Blasczyk converted a layup to tie the game at 22, Gallegos caught fire and knocked down three 3-pointers during the last four minutes of the half to ignite the Huskers to a 33-25 halftime advantage.
“[Gallegos] made some big-time shots,” O’Neill said. “That’s something we gotta bounce back from.”
Nebraska continued its hot streak in the second half with a 11-2 run out of the locker room to give them a 44-27 lead.
As the Huskers’ offense thrived, the Trojans’ sputtered — Terrell’s 3-pointer with 3:15 left in the first half was the last field goal USC would make for more than 10 minutes.
“That’s when you go on the other end of the court and get a great shot, but we haven’t been able to do that,” O’Neill said. “We gotta react better after we get punched in the face like that.”
Fontan made a layup with 12:50 left in the second half to end the cold streak and cut the deficit to 44-30, but the Huskers continued to push the offensive pressure, eventually building a 52-32 lead that proved to be insurmountable.
USC cut the lead down in the final minutes and held Nebraska scoreless in the final 3:52, but it was far too late for any comeback attempt.
The Trojans still have two ranked opponents to face this week — on the road again Wednesday night at 7 p.m. against No. 18 New Mexico (8-0), and at home for a clash against No. 14 Minnesota on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.