In Saturday Night’s 70-26 win over UC Riverside, Coach Kevin O’Neill decided to bench his leading scorer so far this season in J.T. Terrell, sending a clear message. O’Neill stuck to his guns for the night, playing the men who best exemplify effort and toughness for a complete 40 minutes.
One game into the process, the results spoke quite positively for the Trojans, and scoring the second most points on the season, and holding an opponent to under 20 percent shooting was quite the sight to witness. Obviously the opponent, UC Riverside with their 2-8 record on the season, was vastly inferior competition, but the Trojans looked dominant, none the less.
The starting lineup was loaded with size and athleticism all across the board, something that USC has needed, as Jio Fontan, Byron Wesley, Eric Wise, Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon started the game and each provided a spark in the game.
Fontan was sharp on the night, shooting five of six from the field, along with three assists to co-lead the Trojans in scoring with 14 points. The 6-foot-6 small forward Eric Wise capitalized on his new position, racking in 14 points of his own, including two long balls.
On the defensive end, the Trojans size disrupted numerous Highlander shots, which led to an astounding 10 blocks on the evening. Dewayne Dedmon led the charge with six blocks and eight rebounds, benefiting immensely from playing opposite of the 6-foot-4 Chris Hariel.
The biggest noticeable difference with the Trojans was their ball movement and consistent effort to involve all the players on offense. Kevin O’Neill had preached ball movement all week at practice and the Trojans heard the message loud and clear, assisting on 16 of their 26 baskets.
But guess what Trojan fans, J.T. Terrell did not hit the court until the final minute of the second half, alongside high school teammate Ari Stewart, and full-time reserves Tyler Sugiyama and Daniel Munoz.
Terrell took the message personally and immediately came out firing, per usual, in his sparing playing time. He drove to the basket and nailed a short floater from the baseline on his first touch, immediately pumped up the crowd. Then on the second possession, Terrell crossed over a Riverside defender and nailed an in-rhythm three-point shot in dramatic fashion.
Almost in an act of defiance against Terrell, coach O’Neill played Brendan Taylor and Renaldo Woolridge more minutes in the second half. Both played quite well actually, especially Taylor who was aggressive with the basketball scoring three points and grabbing two boards in 15 minutes.
The Trojans lineup presented quite a unique look that many teams in Pac-12 play will present: speed, size and athleticism.
If USC wants to win against the elite teams, the effort they showcased tonight must carry forward.