The USC men's basketball team had lost only once, but given that it was the season opener, and that it came against Portland State, Trojans players said they were anxious before Monday's game against Tennessee Tech.
"I'm glad we only had one day off," Coach Andy Enfield said.
Walking off the court after the Trojans grinded out a 70-58 victory over the Golden Eagles, Jordan McLaughlin said it felt good to get "the monkey off our back."
As the offense continued a fitful start, the Trojans' defense tightened up and forced the Golden Eagles into mistakes and missed baskets.
Seven minutes into the game, USC had induced more turnovers than it had in all of the opener. They finished with 16 forced turnovers.
Offensively, there's more work to be done. When it operates as it should, USC's offense plays quickly and, often, above the rim. In practice, the Trojans work on scoring in eight seconds or less.
The first possession on Monday offered a glimpse. Malik Martin caught Tennessee Tech napping. He threw a quick lob to Julian Jacobs, who finished the ally-oop. In the opener, USC had been sloppy and out of sorts on offense. Now, right from the tipoff, there was a sign of life.
Most opportunities, though, were generated by individuals. The Trojans had only 11 assists. They threw four more lobs in the half, but they looked unnatural. McLaughlin missed several teammates, and they converted none of the four attempts.
Afterward, Enfield pulled McLaughlin to settle him down. He told him his decisions were fine, but his passes were off.
"You can't just throw the ball over the Galen Center," Enfield said.
After the Portland State loss, Enfield stressed being careful with the ball, but turnovers remained a problem. This time, USC turned the ball over 17 times. They now have 40 giveaways in two games.
Still, USC's defense frustrated the Golden Eagles early, mostly with a 2-3 zone.
"We probably should've played it a little more on Saturday, our first game," Enfield said.
The Trojans built a 12-point lead, but when the shooting turned cold, Tennessee Tech drew within two points at the beginning of the second half.
From there, the game devolved into a free-throw shooting contest. With 9 minutes 28 seconds left, both teams were in the bonus. USC finished 24 of 34 from the line.
McLaughlin settled down from a seven-turnover performance in his collegiate debut. He scored 15 points with seven assists and two turnovers.
Katin Reinhardt led all scorers with 19 points.
"It's tough to lose a first game," Reinhardt said.