One day soon, when the schedule becomes a little less forgiving and the opponents a little more renowned, USC might not be able to recover from the lengthy lapses that plagued it Sunday at the Galen Center.
For starters, the Trojans went the first 4 minutes 33 seconds without a point. Their eight possessions ended like this: turnover, turnover, missed shot, turnover, missed shot, turnover, missed shot, missed shot.
Fortunately for USC, the opponent was Charleston Southern, and the deficit was only three points by the time Daniel Hackett put the Trojans on the scoreboard with a free throw.
A 17-0 run to open the second half carried USC to a 70-58 victory before an announced 1,816, but it was the second time in three games that the Trojans dug themselves a first-half hole and were forced to play catch-up.
"It's a good thing we weren't playing a Pac-10 team today, because we wouldn't have won that one," said Coach Tim Floyd, whose team has one more breather, against Longwood on Tuesday, before playing Kansas State on Friday and possibly No. 8 Wichita State on Saturday as part of the Las Vegas Classic.
Senior guard Lodrick Stewart theorized that the Trojans (8-2) might have come out sluggishly after a series of grueling practices. That's a potentially troubling development considering that USC is about to begin a stretch of four games in seven days, with no day off scheduled until Sunday.
"Everybody's tired," said Stewart, who had his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. "We've been working hard in practice and using so much energy in practice. I'm not going to use that as an excuse as why we came out bad, but we just came out real flat and slow."
The Trojans came out with a bit more pep in the second half, Stewart said, after Floyd told them that a loss to the Buccaneers (5-5) could cripple their NCAA tournament chances. USC went to a full-court press and repeatedly worked the ball inside for easy baskets as a 23-22 halftime lead became a 40-22 advantage with 14:13 left.
Junior swingman Nick Young scored all 17 of his points in the second half and freshman forward Taj Gibson registered his Pacific 10 Conference-leading fifth double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
"We had to get a lot of shots to the basket and try to get fouled because we were taking too many outside shots and they weren't dropping," said Gibson, a big reason the Trojans outscored the Buccaneers, 40-20, in the paint and outrebounded them, 39-24.
With the outcome decided, things deteriorated again for USC. The Trojans' defensive intensity began to wane and Charleston Southern knocked down open three-pointers. The Buccaneers made 56.5% of their shots in the second half.
By shooting 41.2% for the game, Charleston Southern became the first team to make at least 40% of its shots against USC this season. Senior guard Donnell Covington led the Buccaneers with 18 points on seven-for-14 shooting.
"We just quit guarding and it kind of became street ball out there," Floyd said.
"I was disappointed. I thought we regressed. I thought we had really been making an upswing since the second half of the George Washington game" on Dec. 9, "but that wasn't very good."