USC picks up pace to beat Cal State Fullerton, 81-54

Maybe USC's pregame meal consisted of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and turkey with all the fixings.

Or maybe as a gag someone just laced the Trojans' water bottles with tryptophan, the amino acid in turkeys rumored to cause post-Thanksgiving meal drowsiness.

Choose your excuse for USC's slow start in its 81-54 win against Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday at the Galen Center.

But to explain its strong finish, look no further, or higher, than 5-foot-7 freshman guard Maurice Jones.

Jones scored 17 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, keying a surge that began shortly after halftime and put the game out of the reach for the Titans (1-4).

"Offensively, we go as Mo goes," Coach Kevin O'Neill said.

USC (4-2) led, 36-35, at the 17-minute 58-second mark in the second half, but responded with a 14-4 run.

After that run, the Titans scored two quick baskets to cut USC's lead to nine points.

That's where Jones came on, scoring 10 points in a 16-4 run that put the Trojans up, 66-47, with 8:03 left.

"I kind of got in the flow of the game," Jones said. "I got a little more aggressive, I got some shots and got a few steals and a few easy buckets, so that kind of got my adrenaline going."

Jones shot one for five in the first half, and seven for 10 in the second. He had five assists, four rebounds, four steals and four turnovers in 37 minutes.

Jones said his back is sore after pulling a muscle Tuesday, which kept him out of shoot-around Wednesday and may keep him out of practice this week.

But O'Neill said it won't keep him out of games. Jones has played 236 out of a possible 240 minutes.

"He has played an unbelievable amount of minutes and this weekend he's playing 80 again," O'Neill said.

Senior forward Alex Stepheson, who suffered a fractured left hand in USC's season-opening win against UC Irvine on Nov. 13, played his best game since the injury, getting 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Stepheson said his effort was helped by new, slimmer cast.

"It makes it easier to catch the ball," Stepheson said.

Junior forward Nikola Vucevic had his Pacific 10 Conference-leading fourth double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. He had five assists, his third consecutive game with as many.

The game began with each team missing shots often. By the 11:19 mark in the first half, they were a combined nine for 27 and the Trojans led, 12-8.

"We just kind of eased into the game," O'Neill said. "That's what we do. That's our next step, to be a team that doesn't ease into things."

USC didn't ease into the second half, shooting 60% (17 of 28) as its lead increased to as many as 30 points.

USC out-rebounded the Titans, whose tallest players are 6 feet 7, by a 41-29 margin.

The Trojans won't enjoy much of a break as they'll spend Thanksgiving en route to Lincoln, Neb., where teeth-chattering weather and Doc Sadler's Cornhuskers await for a Saturday matchup, USC's first true road game this season.

USC won only two of 11 games road games last season.

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