USC Basketball Loses To New Mexico 44-41 Despite Strong Defense
Riding one of their best defensive games of the season, USC energized the crowd of 3,863 at Galen Center, taking a one-point lead with under two minutes to go in the contest. But New Mexico sunk their next four free throws, and guard Maurice Jones airballed a contested three-point attempt at the end to give the victory to the Lobos.
The comeback effort came after the Trojans scored only 15 points by halftime, tying their lowest offensive output in a half under head coach Kevin O'Neill.
"We eased into the game and that got us into a hole," O'Neill said after the loss. "We weren't making shots. It's been like that the entire year."
Full video of O'Neill's postgame press conference can be found at the bottom of this story.
The first half was certainly plodding for the Trojans' offense. They made just 7-of-25 shots (28 percent), one 3-pointer, and didn't get any free throw chances. USC turned the ball over nine times in the first half, with just one assist. That continued the problems for a team that came into Saturday ranked 303rd in the country with 0.68 assists for every turnover.
"Maybe it's just a different mentality," said forward Dewayne Dedmon about the team's first-half struggles. "But we gotta figure it out."
But USC's play on defense kept the team in the contest, holding New Mexico to just 23 points in the first half.
The Trojans trailed by a score of 35-24 with 14 minutes remaining. After that point, the Lobos missed their final eight shots and committed 10 turnovers.
"Our defense is way ahead of where I thought we'd be," O'Neill said. "I'm happy with a lot of what we're doing."
USC made their shots in a comeback effort. That included two 3-pointers by Maurice Jones, who scored 19 of the Trojans' 41 points. Dedmon contributed offensively as well, sinking a mid-range jumper as the shot clock expired, and laying in his own offensive rebound while being fouled to tie the game 40-40 with 1:51 remaining. USC took their only lead of the second half after Dedmon sunk the free throw, before New Mexico made their own foul shots to put the game away.
NEW MEXICO PLAYER OF THE GAME: Forward Drew Gordon. Gordon was a force inside for the Lobos, ending up with a double-double on the night. He led all players with 13 rebounds, and all New Mexico players with 13 points. His 11 defensive rebounds were almost more than the defensive rebound total for the entire USC squad (14).
USC PLAYER OF THE GAME: Guard Maurice Jones. "Mo" carried much of the offense for the Trojans on Saturday, playing all 40 minutes. He was 7-for-18 from the field (39 percent), including 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also pulled in five rebounds, tying him with Dedmon and forward Aaron Fuller for the team-high.
"I want 'Mo' to be more aggressive all the time," O'Neill said. "I always tell him, 'You've got to play like you did in high school this year.' At times, he's aggressive. At times, he could be more aggressive. We're asking a lot of this guy. But if a lot is asked of you, you have to give a lot."
CLOSE AT HOME: Saturday's loss drops the Trojans to 2-3 at Galen Center this season. The three losses have been by a combined 12 points, and all five games have been decided by seven points or fewer.
"The games are close because we play hard defensively. Our guys don't give in," O'Neill said. "I was proud of our guys giving it all today. We forced 24 turnovers and held them to 33 percent shooting. We're in a lot of close games."
"STEP IT UP": Forward Aaron Fuller played 36 minutes on Satruday, but the Iowa transfer pulled in just five rebounds and went 3-of-11 from the field (27 percent). After averaging 15.2 points per game through his first six games with the Trojans, Fuller has averaged just 6.5 per game in his last four contests.
RETURN OF SMITH: Forward Evan Smith made his first appearance for the Trojans since Dec. 11, 2009. He has injured his left glenoid labrum (a shoulder ligament) twice since then, and was redshirted for the 2010-11 season. Smith played 14 minutes, missing all three of his 3-pointers.
"I thought he played really hard and aggressive defensively," O'Neill said. "I want to play him some more, he hustled and really picked us up on the defensive end."
BEHIND ENEMY LINES: New Mexico head coach Steve Alford said he wanted to play up-tempo, but the game got slowed down. And he was not impressed by his team putting up just 21 points in the 2nd half.
"It was ugly. We got careless. We got bored, really," Alford said. "But we found a way to win, and that's all that really matters."
NEXT UP: USC gets a week off to prepare for a home matchup against Georgia on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs are 4-5 this season, having lost their last four contests, but will be coming off a 10-day break of their own before heading out to Los Angeles. Like the Trojans, Georgia is far better on defense (63rd in the country, according to KenPom rankings) than offensively (169th).
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