The Men of Troy entered the Maui Invitational with a record of 2-0, and looking like a well polished team. They left as a unit searching to reestablish its early dominance.
The Trojans squared with Illinois, Texas and Marquette, losing two out of the three. Coach Kevin O’Neill had his Hawaiian spirit flowing, with some fashionable USC gear, but his team was anything but loose on the court, as the Trojans finished a measly sixth at the Maui Invitational and leave the tournament with more questions than answers. But at least, as the ESPN crew mentioned on numerous occasions, the Trojans played hard.
Here’s what went wrong in Maui, and how the Trojans can correct their mistakes moving forward against San Diego State:
WHERE WAS THE DEFENSE AGAINST ILLINOIS?
In their first matchup in Maui since 1999, the Trojans came out of the gate slow in the defensive end. They allowed 57 points in the first half, while letting them drive to the basket at will.
Not only was Illinois shooting well, but the Trojans were getting out-hustled and looked sluggish on the defensive end, leaving them as sitting ducks against the more powerful and aggressive Illini.
The Trojans were uncharacteristically out-rebounded 39-18 in the game, which could be a concern moving forward because faster and quicker lineups present issues on the glass for the Trojans. In the second half, USC clamored down to an extent, holding Illinois to 37 points on under 40 percent shooting.
What killed USC was the play of point guard Brandon Paul. No relation to Chris, Brandon however can sure ball like the Clippers star. The Illinois star posted 26 points and six rebounds on 60 percent shooting from the field. The entire Illinois team, not just Paul, was deadly from the field, and though the Trojans came on strong in the second half, cutting the lead to 21, but could never do enough to make the game close.
SC FINALLY EEKED OUT THE WIN AGAINST TEXAS
In a must-win game for the psyche of the team, USC played solid defense with a team-oriented offense to defeat Rich Barnes’s Longhorns.
The Trojans responded from the shellacking against Illinois by packing a punch on the offensive boards, grabbing four more rebounds, which lead to extra possessions and kept the Trojans in the game.
In a tight game that featured 14 lead changes, the Trojans pulled out what Kevin O’Neil called, “a rock fight”. Neither team shot over 40 percent from the field in this ugly affair but alas, someone had to win their first game in Maui.
Last season, the Trojans were worst in the Pac-12 in shooting percentage and showed many of those struggles in the Maui Invitational, shooting a season-low 34 percent from the field.
That being said, no starter scored less than eight points. Dewayne Dedmon was the MVP of the game, with eight points and nine rebounds, in addition to making the key pass to set up J.T. Terrell’s game tying dunk to force overtime. It was the type of aggressive game Trojan fans have been waiting for from their top-recruit with vast untapped potential.
An interesting moment from the affair with Texas, was when Coach O’Neill instructed two seven-footers, Blasczyk and Oraby, to double team the inbound passer to make life difficult. It didn’t affect the outcome, but it showed the Trojans ability to try out anything to win a basketball game; which will be key in Pac-12 play.
COMEBACK CAME UP SHORT
After trailing by 12 at halftime, the Trojans rallied to cut the deficit to one with 14 minutes to play. From then on however, the Eagles never looked back, finishing the Trojans off by eight points.
Jio Fontan struggled from the field shooting one of eight on the night. Not only did Fontan have trouble, but early-season offensive star Bryon Wesley only mustered 12 points on 11 shots. The entire USC offense was overwhelmed by Marquette’s Big-East brand of basketball, as they tried to push over the Trojans with their size and athleticism, but give the team credit for standing their own.
The Trojans won the turnover battle and split the battle for offensive boards. These stats pay dividends in the toughness department, something the Trojans must win consistently.
USC hung around with Marquette because of the production they received from their best player, J.T. Terrell, as he posted 21 points on 43 percent shooting from the field, while leading an aggressive Trojan unit in points and minutes played with 36.
But, Marquette and USC were on two completely different ends of the spectrum after this game, with Marquette looking like a balanced team that could make a run for the Big East and the NCAA tournament. USC meanwhile, looked exposed offensively and more like a team finding themselves in the NIT come March.
Give Marquette credit, after losing a buzzer-beater to Butler they could have tanked the tournament. Instead, they came out strong and won their final two contests to now stand at 4-1 on the season.
Biggest Concern: Offensive Woes Continue
Kevin O’Neill continues to find no consistency on offense. The Trojans alternate between Fontan’s pick and roll and high screen isolation passing. If this team wants to score points consistently, they need to feed J.T. Terrell with easy shots. That will be accomplished by moving the basketball from the high post to the paint and then back to the three point line.
Currently the Trojans are passing the ball back forth along the three point line making life easy for opposing defenders, which will lead to tougher shots for the Trojans who are already offensively challenged to begin with.
Biggest Strength: Hustle As the Tournament Played Out
The Trojans began the Maui Invitational flat and un-inspired. They ended the tournament with grit and determination that defined the Trojans under Tim Floyd. Watching this team progress was important and it all began with Dewayne Dedmon.
When Dedmon plays with passion and emotion, the team plays off his energy. Dedmon leads an athletic group that should be able to compete for 40 solid minutes. Expect the Trojans to pick up the tempo of their games as the season continues.
The Trojans Will Play Their Next Game at Home Against San Diego State, Sunday Night at 7 P.M.