BID: Trojans Blow Out Lehigh 76-49
Jio Fontan was excited to finally put on the white home jersey. Making his Galen Center debut, Fontan scored 21 points to lead USC (8-5) to a 27-point win over Lehigh (6-6) Thursday night.
Coach Kevin O'Neill was concerned the Mountain Hawks could be a potential trap game after USC defeated No. 19 Tennessee on the road Tuesday.
But the Trojans took care of business 76-49 with four players scoring in double-figures for the third consecutive game.
-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment: Lehigh's Holden Greiner had just knocked down a 3-pointer to cut what had been an early 12-point lead for the Trojans down to just four, 19-15.
USC had turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions and it looked like the Trojans were falling into one of the extended lulls that has plagued them at times against inferior opponents the last two seasons.
But senior guard Donte Smith knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to begin a 16-2 run that propelled USC to a 20-point lead. They would never look back.
Player of the game: In his home debut, Jio Fontan showed why Kevin O'Neill calls him the team's best player. He showed his scoring ability with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond the 3-point line.
Fontan also distributed the basketball well when he drove into the lane, collecting three of his four assists on kickouts for 3-pointers. His quick hands were good for four steals and he collected two rebounds as well.
His impact can also be seen in the diversity of USC's scoring. In each of Fontan's three games, four players have reached double digits in scoring (the team had only accomplished that feat four times in its first 10 games).
Most Spectacular Play: On a fast break, freshman Maurice Jones knifed through the left side of the lane. Jones cut hard toward the rim. He was bumped by a Lehigh defender, sending him skidding to a stop on the floor. But he was still able to work his magic, flipping the ball up over his head and spinning it off the right side of the glass.
"MoJo" added yet another highlight clip to his freshman resume with the "And-1" basket and made his only free throw of the contest for an old school 3-point play.
Unsung Hero: Lehigh's C.J. McCollum entered the game averaging 22.5 points per game. Earlier this season against Kent State, he went off for 42 points -- tied for the highest total in college basketball this season. But McCollum was effectively shut down; USC's senior defensive stopper Marcus Simmons harassed him for the majority of the night.
Simmons didn't give McCollum a single open look, which stopped the sensational sophomore from getting going. For just the sixth time in his career (and the second time this season), McCollum was held to single digits in scoring. He tied his season-low of 7 points, shooting just 2-of-8 from the field.
"We did a great job on the kid McCollum," O'Neill said. "Marcus Simmons was super on him."
Without a good performance from their star, the Mountain Hawks shot only 31.5 percent for the game. McCollum couldn't get the perimeter game going and driving to the basket often resulted in Nikola Vucevic rejecting Lehigh's shot. Vucevic had a career high six blocks.
"Step It Up:" It's hard to call on any player to "step it up" when you win by 27 points, but Bryce Jones got a nonsensical technical foul with 2:34 left in the game.
It was unclear what caused Bryce to shove Lehigh guard Rob Keefer, who was attempting to get to his feet after a loose ball battle with Jio Fontan, but whatever it was, O'Neill wasn't happy about it.
After the game, he said technical fouls won't be tolerated -- not by Bryce or anyone, including himself (O'Neill received a tech in the first half of the Tennessee game earlier this week).
"You're just giving points away," O'Neill said.
Key stat: 4-1. Junior Nikola Vucevic had 16 points and 10 rebounds while fellow forward Alex Stepheson had 11 points and 14 rebounds. USC is now 4-1 over the course of the last two seasons when both players record a double-double.
Vucevic bounced back from what he said was the worst performance of his career when he scored four points and had only one rebound at Tennessee. It still took him some time to get going against Lehigh. He scored just two points in the first half.
"I get pissed at Nick sometimes. He kind of eases in," O'Neill said. "But Nick wants to win and he came back and did a really solid job tonight. Him and Al[ex Stepheson] really did a good job defensively on the inside."
In addition to 27 points and 24 rebounds, Vucevic and Stepheson combined for eight blocks.
Over the last eight games, Stepheson has averaged 12.6 points and 10.3 rebounds as his broken left hand has been healing.
Sideline Moves: Coach Kevin O'Neill decided to use Marcus Simmons for 28 minutes in order to keep Lehigh star C.J. McCollum from getting into a good flow. Simmons had played only 28 minutes in the last two games combined since Jio Fontan became eligible to play. Simmons managed just two points and one rebound, but his defense derailed Lehigh's offensive attack early in the game. Good call by O'Neill.
Where They Stand: USC now enters conference play riding a hot streak. The Trojans finish the non-conference schedule 8-5, but have won four of their last five games. Their only loss in that span came on the road by two points against No. 3 Kansas in the always-roaring Allen Fieldhouse. Two of the four wins came against ranked opponents.
Overall, the Trojans are playing much better since the road trip that saw them blow a 20-point lead at Nebraska and then get beat by 12 at TCU.
They've picked up the intensity on the defensive end. Nebraska and TCU each shot 50 percent or better. Since then, USC has held its last five opponents to a field goal percentage under 40 percent.
The work doesn't get any easier for the Trojans. They open their conference schedule hosting the top two shooting teams in the Pac-10: Washington and Washington State. Washington also leads the conference in scoring, posting more than 90 points per game, and has the top three 3-point shooters (by percentage) in the league.
Sign up for Neon Tommy's weekly e-mail newsletter.