USC Basketball Downs Coppin State 87-73 In Season Opener
Byron Wesley paced a strong first-half offense with 13 points, while Omar Oraby put in eight points with graceful (or as graceful as a 7'2" center can be) ease. The Trojans' defense let up at times in the half court and allowed the Eagles to find too many open looks. The Trojans led 40-30 at the break against their opponent out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Junior college transfer J.T. Terrell came out firing in the second half, and scored 15 points in the half as his jump shot finally began to fall. Oraby scored eight points in seven minutes (identical to the first half), and Dewayne Dedmon grabbed eight rebounds en route to finishing with a career-high 12 boards. Coppin St. full-court pressed the Trojans throughout, but USC's superb ball-movement and dominance in the paint allowed them to run away from the outgunned Eagles. Freshman Patrick Cole led the Eagles with an impressive 25 points, while Towson transfer Tony Franklin had 23.
The win was undoubtedly a team effort, considering how 10 of USC's 15 players finished with with a field goal. The stars of the night, though, were Oraby, Wesley and Terrell, who combined for 50 of the Trojans' 87 points.
The Trojans' roster contains five first-year transfers, and the biggest on Friday for USC (literally and figuratively) was Oraby. The Rice transfer had his hardship waiver approved by the NCAA on Thursday, his 21st birthday. "It [the NCAA clearance] was a gift from god," Wesley said after the game. "When we found out Omar was going to be eligible, we knew he was going to be a huge piece to our team." The celebration continued into Friday night, as Oraby, who is originally from Egypt, finished with 16 points (one short of his career high), six rebounds, and three blocked shots. Oh, and he only played 14 minutes. "I should play this guy more," O'Neill said as he looked at the box score.
Wesley exceeded his three-point total (1) from last year in the first half, hitting a buzzer-beating three, his second of the half, to send the Trojans into the break. He finished three of four from beyond the arc. The Trojans' top scorer by the end of last year's six-win debacle, Wesley, picked up right where he left off. The 6-foot-5 guard finished with 17 points, four blocks and a whole lot of impact on the defensive end.
"He was our best perimeter defender tonight," O'Neill said. "He took shots, was aggressive, and those are things we expect of him."
There were contributions across the board. Point guard and senior leader Jio Fontan had seven assists in his first game back after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Aaron Fuller had 10 rebounds in his own return after missing the rest of the season following his shoulder surgery last January, while UC Irvine transfer Eric Wise helped fuel the Trojans' quick start with a few early baskets.
Friday night was a stellar performance all-around, but uncertainty and possible problems still surround the team. Who will take the last-second shot? How can USC cut down on its 27 fouls? How good will the defense, which O'Neill has lauded all preseason yet allowed 73 points to an inferior opponent, actually be? What will be done to reduce an unhealthy number (17) of turnovers? And how does Serbian freshman forward Strahinja Gavrilovic feel about being nicknamed "Luis?"
Those questions will sort themselves out as USC gains experience (and Gavrilovic does more interviews), but for Friday, all these Trojans wanted was a fresh start. Forty minutes, 87 points, and a large dosage of confidence later, it looks like these Trojans are prepared to make the horrors of the 2011-12 campaign a distant memory.