Jefferson and Mayo cap USC’s 70-45 victory
Five games later, USC has gone from Mercer to needing a mercy rule.
The Trojans put on a cohesive display despite a lineup shake-up Sunday night at the Anaheim Convention Center, posting a 70-45 victory over No. 19 Southern Illinois in the championship game of the Anaheim Classic.
Freshmen Davon Jefferson and O.J. Mayo came off the bench to spark USC, which hardly resembled the team that lost to Mercer in its opener.
Jefferson scored a career-high 20 points in only 23 minutes and Mayo, the tournament’s most valuable player, had 13 points while playing perhaps his most unselfish game to help USC (5-1) topple the Salukis (3-1) with smothering defense.
“We didn’t anticipate forcing so many turnovers that would lead to easy baskets,” said Coach Tim Floyd, whose team cajoled Southern Illinois into 15 turnovers. “We thought it was going to be a grind-it-out game in the half-court set.”
It was anything but that as USC pulled away midway through the second half on the strength of a 15-0 run. The push started with a one-handed dunk by Jefferson off an inbounds lob from Mayo and ended with a putback by sophomore forward Taj Gibson that gave USC a 61-37 lead with 6 minutes 50 seconds left.
The sizable cushion allowed Floyd to insert a mostly third-string lineup that included walk-ons Terence Green and Ryan Wetherell in the final two minutes, but Jefferson capped his breakthrough performance with a big dunk in the waning seconds.
Floyd said he benched Mayo and Gibson to start the game for the first time in their careers to foster a sense of team unity and to help accelerate the development of their replacements, freshman Angelo Johnson and junior Keith Wilkinson.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” said Gibson, who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds after his 42-game starting streak ended. “It was for the good of the team.”
Said Floyd: “It is a big deal to players and media who plays, but to coaches it matters who finishes. It was simply a part of what we are trying to do long-term.”
With Jefferson, Gibson and Mayo on the bench, the Salukis raced to an early five-point lead and still led by four points when Mayo and Gibson entered with 13:36 left in the first half.
They made an immediate impact, Mayo making a pull-up jumper and Gibson blocking a shot by Randal Falker, who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds but was frustrated by USC’s triangle-and-two defense.
“We didn’t do what we do,” said Coach Chris Lowery, whose team had been holding opponents to an average of 52.7 points. “That’s a credit to them and a lack of effort on our part.”
Jefferson entered midway through the first half and scored eight consecutive points during one stretch on a flurry of impressive moves to help USC close the half on a 14-2 run after the score was tied, 21-21.
USC gave Southern Illinois an opening early in the second half by turning the ball over on four of their first six possessions, but the Salukis couldn’t convert.
“We need wins like this if we want to advance and have a great season,” said sophomore guard Daniel Hackett, who had 10 assists.
UP NEXT FOR USC
Oklahoma, Galen Center, 8 p.m. Thursday, FSN Prime Ticket -- The Trojans will have to contend with Blake Griffin, the Sooners’ freshman forward who is averaging 15 points and 9.2 rebounds, in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. Senior Longar Longar, a 6-foot-11 center who is averaging 12 points and 7.2 rebounds, could present matchup problems for USC. Oklahoma (5-1) has defeated San Francisco, Denver, Alcorn State, Gardner-Webb and Moorehead State while losing to Memphis, 63-53.