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Loyola Marymount rallies to defeat USC, 67-59

USC BASKETBALL

Lions come back for their second win after Kasey Cunningham leaves because of a knee injury.

November 22, 2009|By Pete Thomas

When USC forward Kasey Cunningham went down in a heap, holding his left knee while slumped on the court beneath the Trojans' basket, it was as if Loyola Marymount smelled blood.

The Lions quickly erased a 10-point second-half deficit, largely behind guards Larry Davis and Jared DuBois, pulled ahead and held on for a 67-59 victory Saturday night in a nonconference game at the Galen Center.

The triumph improved the young Lions, who won only three games last season, to 2-3.

The manner by which the Trojans (1-1) lost underscored how important one player is for an inexperienced team that -- because of injuries and eligibility issues -- had only eight players available and used only six.

Cunningham, a redshirt junior who was sidelined for all or most of the past three seasons because of knee injuries, landed awkwardly with the Trojans ahead, 46-36, with 14:31 to play.

He'll have an MRI exam Monday but said he did not believe the injury is as serious as past injuries to the left knee.

"I just sprained my knee a little bit," he said, hopefully. "It did not feel like past ACL injuries."

The incident seemed to deflate the Trojans, who shot 50% from the field in opening a 33-25 lead, but shot only 34.8% in the second half, when they increasingly abandoned defense of the perimeter.

After Cunningham went down, the Trojans were outscored, 31-13.

"Their guys stepped up and made plays, and we didn't make stops when we had to," said guard Marcus Simmons, who scored 11 points.

New USC Coach Kevin O'Neill was quick to praise Loyola Marymount for its sustained effort but also cited fatigue, more than the psychological effect of Cunningham's injury, for his team's letdown.

"I think when you play major minutes and you haven't done that before, you get tired quicker," O'Neill said, citing that junior guard Donte Smith and sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic played the entire game. "Those guys have never played those kinds of minutes before."

After Cunningham's injury, the Lions' Tim Diederichs completed a three-point play to spark an 11-2 run that tied the score at 47-47.

The Trojans, who were led by Vucevic's 19 points and 11 rebounds, played the Lions to a 58-58 tie with 3:19 to play. But DuBois then made a three-pointer and the Lions slowly pulled away.

"I think we played with a lot of poise in the second half," Lions Coach Max Good said. "We had to keep hanging in there and piece it together."

It was an impressive win regardless of circumstances for the Lions, whose roster features eight freshmen, seven sophomores and three juniors. They're even younger than the Trojans, but they're more experienced and they have more players available.

Using lots of subs and a frenetic zone defense, they held the Trojans' best player, senior guard Dwight Lewis, to 11 points on three-for-12 shooting.

There is at least some relief in sight for the Trojans, though.

Forward Marcus Johnson will become eligible for Friday's game against Coppin State, and forward-center Alex Stepheson, a North Carolina transfer recovering from a knee injury, might be available.

Said O'Neill: "Obviously we need everybody we can muster up and gather up."

pete.thomas@latimes.com

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