J.T. Terrell was eligible to play for USC, according to Coach Andy Enfield, but he didn't play. Byron Wesley is the Trojans' leading scorer and has been eligible all year, but he didn't start.
Maybe that's the reason the Trojans started off so slowly Thursday night. A double-digit halftime deficit couldn't be overcome and Long Beach State (2-9) beat the Trojans, 72-71, at Long Beach's Walter Pyramid.
Wesley, a 6-foot-5 junior, has been the constant on this up-and-down USC team (7-4), always ready to take and usually make an open jump shot, and he was usually the Trojan who would fight the hardest for a loose ball or rebound.
But when the game started, Wesley sat on the bench, his chin in his hands and his eyes locked onto nothing. "It was a coach's decision" was all Wesley would say after the discouraging loss. Enfield said the same thing. "It was a coach's decision and that's all I have."
Tyler Lamb, a junior guard who transferred to Long Beach State from UCLA after the first semester last year, had 20 points in his first game for the 49ers and Mike Caffey had a game-high 22 for the winners.
Terrell, who had regained the eligibility he lost last month, didn't play because he hadn't practiced, according to Enfield.
The shock was seeing Wesley on the bench for all but six minutes in the first half and playing 21 for the game. USC's leading scorer finished with two points, three assists and three rebounds.
Only point guard Pe'Shon Howard, who finished with 19 points, kept the Trojans even a little close in the first half, when USC trailed 50-36. Howard had 11 points, including three three-point shots.
Enfield, who had been unhappy with his team's defense so far, couldn't have been thrilled when Long Beach State shot 53.8% from the field.
"The first half was disappointing," Enfield said. "Our heads weren't in it. Our defense was terrible."
Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson said the 49ers' tough early-season schedule helped them. "We've been in these situations," he said. "We weren't fazed when they made their comeback."
The Trojans, who trailed by as many as 16, drew within 62-60 on a Howard three-pointer with 6 minutes 27 seconds left, but the 49ers scored the next four points.
Wesley made his only basket of the game with 3:40 left to pull USC to within 68-64, and the 49ers called a timeout.
A minute later USC center Omar Oraby fought his way through four 49ers for a layup. He was fouled and made the free throw to make the score 70-69 in favor of Long Beach with 1:40 left. A layup by Trojans freshman Julian Jacobs put USC up 71-70.
But from there the game was owned by the 49ers. They forced the Trojans into a shot-clock violation and Caffey hit a layup to put the 49ers up 72-71. Howard missed a three-pointer and Wesley another just before the final buzzer.
"This loss hurt more than any," Howard said. "To play so badly in the first half and come back and almost win, that's tough."
Enfield said it wasn't the result that bothered him as much as the way the Trojans played the first half. "We were sluggish and just started with no energy. This one hurt."