The USC men's basketball team showcased its new up-tempo offense for fans for the first time Saturday in an exhibition game against Point Loma Nazarene at the Galen Center.
And it worked …for the first half, anyway, when the Trojans led by 27 points against a team that has one player taller than 6 feet 6.
"And in the second half, we kind of bogged ourselves down and we didn't do a great job of running our lanes, [and] our bigs ran when they felt like it." USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said after his team's 69-49 win.
O'Neill wants a get-out-and-run offense largely because he has a point guard — 5-7 dynamo freshman Maurice Jones — to make it go, but also because USC isn't built for half-court offense, an obvious fact last season when the Trojans averaged 59.6 points per game.
"On misses and turnovers, we have to convert to easy baskets, we have to," O'Neill said.
In the first half, that happened behind forward Nikola Vucevic (10 first-half points) and freshman guard Bryce Jones, who made his first four three-point shots and finished with 17 points.
After halftime, O'Neill mixed and matched lineups, but the effort overall, he said, was lethargic.
Vucevic, who finished with 16 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, said the team is still somewhat in the mind-set that it can jog down the court, but he said that should change by mid-season.
O'Neill hopes so since the Trojans now have Maurice Jones, who finished with seven points and six assists.
"If guys want to run, they've got to run hard, because if you get out there, [Maurice] will get you the ball," O'Neill said. "He'll lay it on your hands and all you've got to do is put it in. It's important that our guys understand that."
Said Alex Stepheson, who scored a game-high 19 points on eight-for-13 shooting: "The key is to always run, just always run."
Even so, O'Neill said he's going to tell Maurice Jones that he needs to make more plays for the team, especially until transfer guard Jio Fontan becomes eligible in mid-December.
Free throw issues
Stepheson shot three-for-10 from the free throw line and drew empathetic cheers from the crowd when he made two in a row near the end of the game.
"It was funny, but it wasn't funny," he said.
O'Neill said that if Stepheson, who shot 49% from the free-throw line last season (44 for 89), shoots 50% this season, that would be fine — at least right now.
"He's not a great free throw shooter," O'Neill said. "He's got a decent stroke, but I think once he misses a couple, it kind of tightens him up."
Stepheson admitted that misses bother him, but because teams could go to a hack-a- Shaq defense against him this season, he will be at the line a lot. Stepheson said he will be putting in extra work at the gym to get his confidence back.
Ahead of schedule
Stepheson said the Trojans are a "couple steps ahead" of where they were at this point last year, pointing to improved chemistry and confidence. "We're more of a unit instead of a bunch of individuals."