Reporting from Las Vegas -- In high school in Saginaw, Mich., Maurice Jones, known as “MoJo,” dominated as a one-man dynamo who won games nearly by himself.
At USC this season, coaches plead with the sophomore guard to be his high school self, as he is their only returning starter, their only true hope.
On Saturday in the Trojans’ 63-60 win against South Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational, Jones obeyed orders and then some.
The 5-foot-5 Jones had 28 points, one short of his career high, made all seven of his three-point shots (a school record) and scored 14 consecutive points late in the second half to preserve USC’s win.
“He was obviously awesome,” USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said.
Jones, who made nine of his 15 shots from the field, said his shooting hand hasn’t been this hot since high school, and that he kept shooting to see if it would cool down. It didn’t.
“The more shots you make, the more you take,” Jones said.
His seven-for-seven performance from three-point range bested USC’s previous single-game mark for three-point percentage with at least five shots made, which had been set by Lodrick Stewart (six) in 2007.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody be perfect from three with that number [of shots],” O’Neill said. “That’s pretty good.”
The Trojans trailed, 48-44, with 8 minutes 39 seconds in the second half when Jones heated up.
He made four three-point shots, two from NBA range, and a layup to put the Trojans up, 58-53, with 3:09 left.
For good measure, he made two free throws with 25 seconds left to move USC to 3-4 in front of 2,149 at the Orleans Arena.
“It just feels good to get a win,” the soft-spoken Jones said.
Such relief followed Jones’ frustration Friday when USC fell to Nevada Las Vegas.
After that loss, Jones lamented the Trojans’ four defeats despite leading each of the games in the second half.
“We have to figure out how to finish games,” Jones said Friday.
But against the Gamecocks (2-4), with the game tied late, Jones figured out how USC could finish: With him.
“We tell him constantly to just take over the game,” O’Neill said. “We want him to take over more all the time.”
One issue, though, is that defenses focus on Jones, making it difficult for him to find any breathing room.
But against South Carolina, the Trojans received solid efforts from their inside players, opening up opportunities on the perimeter.
Forward Dewayne Dedmon bounced back from an awful game against Las Vegas in which he had five fouls in five minutes to score 15 points and grab eight rebounds in 35 minutes.
“He kept his composure tonight,” O’Neill said. “He learned a valuable lesson [Friday] night.
“Hopefully, that will springboard him to make some moves in the right direction.”
Forward Aaron Fuller had six points and 10 rebounds.
The Trojans out-rebounded the Gamecocks, 28-18, which earned them 17 second-chance points.
Damontre Harris led the Gamecocks with 15 points.