After dropping three straight games, the USC men’s basketball team will have a chance to get back on track and pick up a big road win against No. 18 New Mexico on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Trojans are coming off a disappointing 63-51 defeat against Nebraska that dropped their record to 3-4 on the season. USC allowed the Cornhuskers to knock down 64 percent of their 3-point attempts, a major reason why Nebraska was able to pull off the victory. Looking forward to New Mexico, USC coach Kevin O’Neill realizes the importance of preventing another such perimeter attack.
“Obviously, we can’t give up 11 out of 17 3-pointers,” O’Neill said. “We’re in a rough stretch, but if you add up the win-loss record of our opponents, we’re playing tough teams. On the road it’s always tough. We’ve got to find our way offensively and defensively. Until then, it’s going to be difficult.”
The Lobos are led by their backcourt, as junior guards Kendall Williams and Tony Snell are averaging a combined 27.2 points and eight assists per game. The Trojans are hoping to slow them down offensively.
“We have to make sure we don’t give them catches in open space,” O’Neill said. “And when they do make catches, we have to get in their face. We can’t give up easy baskets and 3-pointers.”
USC’s backcourt, meanwhile, continues to provide spotty shooting performances. Starting guards senior Jio Fontan and junior J.T. Terrell finished a combined 9-of-24 from the floor against Nebraska, with Terrell still managing to lead the team with 14 points.
“I can’t really speak for J.T., but I think that it’s definitely been a little bit of a challenge for him,” sophomore guard Byron Wesley said before the start of USC’s road trip. “At junior college he was the main player shooting almost every time, so just coming here, trying to become more of a system player is definitely going to make his game way better. I’m excited for what we have.”
New Mexico enters Wednesday’s matchup with an undefeated 8-0 record. The Lobos started the season off with an 86-81 victory over Davidson and later took down the Connecticut Huskies to win the Paradise Jam tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Beating the undefeated Lobos would be tough enough on a neutral court, but at University Arena in New Mexico it’s an even larger challenge. When asked if the Trojans were ready for the road test, O’Neill was blunt.
“No. But it doesn’t matter if we’re ready, we’re going to have to be there,” O’Neill said. “It’s obviously a good environment, but no different than any place like Arizona or Washington that we’ll have to play at later.”
In a hostile environment, the Trojans will look to avoid a slow start like the one in a recent home game against No. 17 San Diego State. USC lost that matchup 66-60.
“We know we can’t come out flat when we go out there because it’ll make that challenge even tougher,” senior forward Eric Wise said. “So we just want to come out from the beginning.”
Despite the mounting losses, O’Neill’s group isn’t conceding anything yet, especially with a chance to impress onlookers with upcoming matchups against ranked teams.
“We [have] lots of challenges ahead of us,” O’Neill said. “We still have two top-25 teams we have to play this week. We’re going to have to tie things together on both ends of the court. We don’t like results we’ve had in the past few games, and we’re determined to turn it around.”