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Trojans’ win is a walkover

Times Staff Writer

Even with Gabe Pruitt wearing a hooded black sweatshirt instead of a cardinal-and-gold jersey, it was easy for USC to press Thursday night with the stakes low and the opponent completely overmatched.

The Trojans didn’t have much need for Pruitt on a night when they closed out an 88-36 victory over Bethune-Cookman before an announced 2,117 at the Galen Center with three walk-ons on the court.

USC Coach Tim Floyd went deep into his bench in the final minutes of a game in which the Trojans recorded their most lopsided win since a 62-point victory over UC Irvine on Dec. 15, 1996.

Floyd had hoped to reinstate Pruitt, the junior guard who had been academically ineligible for the first semester, against the Wildcats but learned that he would have to wait until the USC registrar certifies all grades on Dec. 22. That’s the same day the Trojans are to play Kansas State in the Las Vegas Classic at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

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Floyd said Pruitt had attained the grades necessary to regain his eligibility, but “there are rules and you have to live by the rules. That’s our university’s rule according to compliance and you have to live with it. It’s unfortunate.”

Junior swingman Nick Young, who had likened playing without Pruitt to Scottie Pippen playing without Michael Jordan, performed as if he were playing for himself and Pruitt. Young scored 22 points in 28 minutes and enlivened the fans midway through the second half when he faked a defender with a spin move for a one-handed dunk.

Young followed with a layup on a give-and-go as the Trojans (7-2) surged ahead on their way to leads as large as 52 points.

“I thought our guys played unselfishly and moved the ball and took good shots,” said Floyd, whose team had a season-high 21 assists. “Our ball movement was better than it had been.”

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Freshman point guard Daniel Hackett, who had more turnovers than assists entering the game, had seven assists and only one turnover for the Trojans, who shot 67.7% during a second half in which they outscored Bethune-Cookman, 55-18.

Senior guard Lodrick Stewart was one of five USC players in double figures, with 14 points. Freshman guard Kevin Galloway had a career-high 13 points on four-for-five shooting and freshman forward Taj Gibson had 12.

The Trojans forced 21 turnovers and held Bethune-Cookman (2-5) to 29.2% shooting -- the ninth consecutive opponent they have held under 40% to open the season.

As ugly as the game became in the final minutes, when Floyd went with a lineup of Galloway, sophomore forward Keith Wilkinson and walk-ons Ryan Wetherell, Chris Penrose and Reed Doucette, things almost completely unraveled for a different reason just before halftime.

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Bethune-Cookman guard Damitrius Coleman head-butted Hackett in apparent frustration and officials met with Floyd in an effort to defuse the situation.

“I had to grab [Hackett] so he wouldn’t react to it,” Stewart said. “He played through it and finished the game out.”

Pruitt, USC’s second-leading scorer and a first-team All-Pacific 10 Conference selection as a sophomore, sat at the end of the Trojans’ bench wearing black pants that matched his sweatshirt. USC probably won’t need Pruitt during its next two games, against lightly regarded Charleston Southern on Sunday and Longwood on Tuesday.

But the Trojans could very well need Pruitt against Kansas State, which is expected to have the services of highly regarded freshman Bill Walker by then. And USC could play No. 8 Wichita State on Dec. 23 in the Las Vegas Classic before opening Pac-10 play against Washington on Dec. 28.

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“When I first saw him [Thursday] he tried to hide it by smiling and talking to me,” Young said of Pruitt’s continued ineligibility. “He wanted to come back out on the court. But we’ve got to keep playing. When Gabe comes back, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

ben.bolch@latimes.com


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