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USC’s Maurice Jones feels pressure to score, pass and do more

Maurice Jones used to have it easy, or at least easier.

Last season, Jones had Jio Fontan with him in the USC backcourt. One played the point, the other was the shooting guard and they rotated roles during games.

This season, with Fontan sidelined by a knee injury, Jones is trying to do both simultaneously. While trying to stay the pass-first point guard he’s often been, he’s also attempting to be the scorer Coach Kevin O’Neill demands.

Sometimes it has worked, sometimes not, as USC has struggled to an overall record of 5-10, 0-2 in Pac-12 Conference play.

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Jones, a sophomore, made seven three-point shots and scored 28 points in a nonconference win against South Carolina, but he missed 11 of 12 shots in a Pac-12 loss against Stanford.

“Sometimes he imposes his will on the other team, sometimes he doesn’t,” O’Neill said.

Jones is averaging a team-high 14.4 points heading into Thursday night’s conference game against Arizona State at the Galen Center, but he’s striving to be a more consistent scorer.

“It’s just hard to be in attack mode and be in distributing mode all the time,” he said.

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The 5-foot-7 Jones is playing 38.73 minutes per game, the second most among Division I players, but he said he feels fine. When he is slowed, it has been by defenses keying on him.

O’Neill “says I make the team go, but I think we just have to go as each other goes,” Jones said. “He always tells me to score and be aggressive. It’s just about making plays, really. I don’t really have to score if guys are knocking down shots.”

O’Neill said because the Trojans are short on proven scorers, Jones has no choice.

“I think Mo feels overwhelmed with the responsibility he has for the team to do well, offensively, defensively, whatever it might be,” O’Neill said. “And I think there’s times when he doesn’t react like a veteran player would react in those situations.

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“In fairness to Mo, we’re asking him to do too much. But in fairness to us, he’s got to do too much.”

Etc.

O’Neill said he doesn’t expect forward Evan Smith to play again this season. The 6-7 redshirt sophomore from Calabasas has been hindered by chronic shoulder injuries throughout his college career. He played in four games in December — his first action in two seasons — and scored five points.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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twitter.com/baxterholmes


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