Ten minutes into USC’s season opener against Cal State Northridge on Friday, the crowd began a chant: Ded-mon … Ded-mon … Ded-mon
The cadence rang out from the USC student section and washed over Dewayne Dedmon as the 7-foot sophomore sprinted down-court after grabbing a defensive rebound.
It seemed improbable that Dedmon could live up to the hype USC Coach Kevin O’Neill bestowed him all off-season, declaring the athletic big man a future NBA lottery pick — perhaps as soon as next year.
But in his USC debut, a 66-59 USC victory at the Galen Center, Dedmon, who first played organized basketball at 18 and who scored two total points in high school, didn’t disappoint.
The Lancaster native finished with 16 points on seven-of-eight shooting, collected eight rebounds and offered enough highlights to show why 18 NBA teams scouted him this preseason.
“It was fun,” Dedmon said. “I had a blast.”
His first USC basket was a one-handed dunk off a no-look pass from a driving Maurice Jones with 18:25 in the first half.
Dedmon then pounded his chest three times and roared while two former Trojans selected in the first round of the NBA draft, Taj Gibson and DeMar DeRozan, sat courtside.
In bursts, Dedmon showed he could be special.
“I’m very pleased with his play, very pleased,” O’Neill said. “It’s brand new for him. He’s going to figure it out.”
With its youth and inexperience, USC might take a while, though.
USC led by as much as 13 before halftime but trailed late. Then, its defense tightened, Maurice Jones converted a three-point play to put the team ahead, 55-54, with 3:48 left, and it held on.
Dedmon was clutch in the final minutes.
A wide-open dunk gave USC a three-point lead, and with 24 seconds left he tipped out a crucial defensive rebound with USC leading by two.
Fittingly, he grabbed the final board as the buzzer sounded.
Dedmon said he needed to hydrate better for his next game after suffering from leg cramps.
USC also needs to work on its three-point shooting. The Trojans missed all 15 shots from behind the arc, with Jones missing seven of them.
“This is where you missed a guy like Jio [Fontan],” O’Neill said, referring to the loss of his senior guard to a knee injury in August.
Jones finished with 16 points, 12 coming off free throws. Aaron Fuller also scored 16.
Overall, USC shot 20 of 47 (42.6%) from the floor, but still nearly lost despite the fact the Matadors missed 48 of their 64 shots.
“We have freshman that are going to have to grow up in a hurry,” O’Neill said.
Stephan Hicks led Northridge with 19 points.