Trojans enjoy the moment
O.J. Mayo took the cross-court pass from Taj Gibson, spotted up from the corner and buried the open three-point shot.
The USC student section went into a leaping, arm-waving frenzy and Mayo warmly embraced Gibson after Oklahoma called a timeout, its deficit creeping further into double digits.
The No. 22 Trojans finally had a moment to remember on their home court late in the second half Thursday night, pulling away for a 66-55 victory over Oklahoma in the inaugural Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series at the Galen Center.
USC’s sixth consecutive win -- and first at home -- was primarily fueled by Mayo’s spectacular second half and an impressive all-around effort by freshman forward Davon Jefferson, who scored a career-high 23 points in his first start.
“My teammates are setting me up and getting me opportunities, and I’m capitalizing on it,” said Jefferson, who made seven of 12 shots and had nine rebounds in 30 minutes.
Mayo scored 16 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes, continually beating his defender off the dribble for driving layups and pleasing a crowd of 9,288 that was more than twice the 3,856 the Trojans drew for their opener against Mercer, a 96-81 loss.
“I kind of struggled in the first half,” said Mayo, who had made one of eight shots by halftime. “So I wanted to get to the rim and either draw a foul or finish.”
Gibson fouled out after scoring two points in only nine minutes, but Oklahoma center Longar Longar and the Sooners’ massive front line was not quite the double trouble the Trojans had feared. Longar had three points and forward Blake Griffin had four, well below his average of 15.
“I just liked our commitment on the defensive end,” USC Coach Tim Floyd said. “We didn’t have to get in any situations where we were doubling Griffin because we limited his catches.”
USC (6-1) appeared on the verge of a blowout when it scored the first five points of the second half, sophomore guard Dwight Lewis pulling up for a jumper in transition that gave the Trojans a 33-18 lead.
But Oklahoma, which made 25% of its shots in the first half, responded with a flurry of three-point shots and pulled to within three points on two occasions midway through the second half.
That’s when Jefferson made two free throws and Mayo drove past Sooners guard David Godbold for a layup, starting a 13-3 run that pretty much sealed the outcome.
Forward Keith Clark and guard Austin Johnson had 13 points apiece for the Sooners (5-2), who shot 35.6% and were out-rebounded, 38-28.
The Trojans’ starting lineup was much less of a head-scratcher than it was Sunday, when Floyd benched Mayo and Gibson at the outset of USC’s victory over Southern Illinois, saying it was “part of breeding unselfishness.” Floyd went with Mayo, Gibson, Jefferson and sophomore guards Daniel Hackett and Lewis against the Sooners.
The victory might have come at a cost, though. Hackett took a knee to the calf and freshman guard Angelo Johnson knocked knees with an opponent. Both players will be reevaluated today.
It only gets tougher for the Trojans on Sunday morning, when No. 4 Kansas comes to the Galen Center. After that, USC travels to New York to play No. 3 Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
This time last year the Trojans were playing the likes of Charleston Southern, Longwood and Mississippi Valley State. Floyd upgraded his schedule thinking that either Nick Young or Gabe Pruitt would return for his senior year, but both players departed early for the NBA.
And so the Trojans as currently constructed will find out in the coming days whether they are ahead of the learning curve or still have a lot of growing up to do.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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