Saturday’s exhibition game against Point Loma Nazarene was the first opportunity for fans to see the Trojans’ freshmen play in a non-scrimmage situation at the Galen Center, and if freshman guard Bryce Jones was nervous to play in front of the USC crowd, he did not show it. Jones entered the game and instantly made a three-pointer in each of his first two possessions.
“It was a real big confidence-booster to hit the first two shots,” Jones said. “I saw that I was hot, so I thought I should keep shooting.”
Jones did keep shooting, and connected on his first four three-point attempts in the first half. He finished with 17 points and three rebounds in only 19 minutes, helping the Trojans win 69-49.
“I thought Bryce played really well in the first half,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “He is going to be a really, really good player. It is going to take him a little bit of time, but he has made huge strides. He is eventually going to be a knock-down shooter, as well as a guy who can get to the basket and make plays.”
Jones was not the only freshman who stood out for USC. Maurice Jones started at point guard and accumulated seven points, a game-high six assists and only one turnover. Neither Garrett Jackson nor Curtis Washington scored in brief action.
Senior forward Alex Stepheson had a game-high 19 points for the Trojans, despite only making three of 10 free throws. Junior forward Nikola Vucevic had 16 points and 16 rebounds, and senior guard Marcus Simmons added six points and eight rebounds.
“I think we are definitely a couple steps ahead of where we were last year,” Stepheson said. “The chemistry is better, which goes a long way. We have confidence in each other, and we are a unit instead of a bunch of individuals.”
Defensively, the Trojans managed to contain the Sea Lions. Point Loma Nazarene’s two leading scorers, forwards James Hancock and Todd Campbell, who came into to the game averaging a combined 31 points per game, finished with two points in the first half, and six total points. USC held the Sea Lions to a 29.8 shooting percentage.
The exhibition gave O’Neill an opportunity to analyze his squad before USC opens the regular season on Saturday. Despite starting the game on an 11-1 run and the 20-point margin of victory, O’Neill said he found areas that his team needs to improve in.
“We are going to be a work in progress for a while. We have depth issues, but that is not something that any of us did not already know,” O’Neill said. “We have to make sure that we are improving at a steady pace.”
The Trojans will open regular-season competition on Saturday against UC-Irvine.