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USC win makes grade on learning curve

Medina is a Times staff writer.

Knowing his team’s inexperience, USC Coach Tim Floyd feared a loss against San Francisco might derail the Trojans’ confidence heading into Thursday’s matchup with No. 6 Oklahoma.

That’s why he expressed relief when he sat down for his postgame news conference Monday night following USC’s 74-69 victory, which took the Trojans to 4-0 at the Galen Center and 5-2 overall this season.

“We’re glad we got out of it with a win,” Floyd said. “They maybe took some lessons from this game. Being down and understanding how you catch up.”

The Trojans haven’t had much trouble setting the tone early in games this season. Floyd saw his players, however, unable to sustain that momentum, especially after building halftime leads in the first six games.

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This time, USC couldn’t find a rhythm, stopping in its tracks as soon as USF began playing what appeared to be a 2-3 zone defense. Floyd described it as “a very soft man [defense] where they were sitting on top of our post,” designed to limit forward Taj Gibson’s opportunities on the block.

Regardless of what it was, the tactic worked. The Dons led, 22-12, with 8 minutes 10 seconds left in the first half, including 12 points from forward Dior Lowhorn, who wound up with 23 points.

While the Dons went scoreless in the remaining 3:05 of the half, the Trojans started producing offensively. They passed quickly around the perimeter to find an open shot or attacked the basket. USC guard Dwight Lewis did the latter and drew a foul from USF forward Angelo Caloiaro.

Lewis didn’t complete the three-point play, but freshman DeMar DeRozan made a put-back off the missed free throw and drew a foul on Lowhorn. DeRozan’s free throw reduced USF’s lead to 27-26 with 1:29 remaining.

Gibson’s two free throws with five seconds remaining gave the Trojans a 28-27 lead -- the first time USC led in the game.

The comeback, Hackett said, “showed a lot of heart.”

“We’ve been emphasizing defense a lot,” DeRozan said. “The only way we were going to get back into the game was defense.”

It also helped that USC had three players score in double digits -- Lewis (26 points), Hackett (18) and DeRozan (11).

Though the Trojans never relinquished the lead after the 7:45 mark of the second half, the Dons crept to within two points after Lowhorn made a three-pointer to make it 71-69 with 33 seconds left.

Dons guard Dontae Bryant fouled DeRozan following a USF timeout and he made one of two free throws for a 72-69 edge with 20 seconds left.

On the next play, USF’s Kwame Vaughn attempted a three-point shot but it rimmed out.

Lewis then converted two free throws to secure the victory against USF (5-2), which was off to its best start since going 12-1 to begin the 1999-2000 season.

Lewis said he thinks the Trojans are a match for other quality opponents, citing their ability to fight from behind and regain the lead in a game that had 12 lead changes in the second half.

“We’ve got a lot of tough games this season that are going to come down to the wire,” Lewis said. “This experience helped us and our young players.”

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mark.medina@latimes.com


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