Before USC played its first Pac-12 Conference road game, there were plenty of questions about how the Trojans would handle the experience of playing in a hyped-up Gill Coliseum.
One of the biggest revolved around junior point guard Derryck Thornton, who appeared to establish himself as a dependable floor leader in wins over California and Stanford, averaging 13 points, 10.5 assists and just 1.5 turnovers.
“Derryck has played terrific basketball the last three weeks,” USC coach Andy Enfield said before the team departed for Corvallis on Wednesday. “Now, he has the chance to go prove he can do it on the road.”
USC got a sensational outing Thursday night from senior forward Bennie Boatwright, who dropped a career-high 37 points on the Beavers, but the Trojans were unable to prevail in overtime, losing 79-74.
They became totally dependent on Boatwright making jumpers and were not able to generate easy looks within their half-court offense, and Thornton finished the game with one assist and two turnovers. He shot two of eight from the field and one of six from three-point range.
“We need consistent play out of our point guards,” Enfield said. “We hope that Sunday will be a more consistent performance. It’s hard to match what he did the first two games because he was playing so well. We just need consistency, especially on the road.”
Thornton will get another chance Sunday at Oregon to show he can get the Trojans (9-7 and 2-1 in the Pac-12) to play their brand of offense away from Galen Center, where they had run off a four-game winning streak before the loss Thursday.
If Thornton has another ineffective game, he will have competition for playing time from freshman point guard Elijah Weaver, who returned to the rotation Thursday after missing Thornton’s big weekend because of an injured ankle.
Enfield said that Weaver’s ankle responded well after playing Thursday and that he’s about 100% for the Ducks. Weaver had 14 points against UC Davis in his last game before injuring the ankle in the walkthrough before the Cal game and is a more explosive athlete than Thornton.
In 15 minutes, Weaver had three assists and no turnovers.
“He was playing very well before he injured his ankle,” Enfield said, “so taking nine, 10 days off and being thrown into your first Pac-12 road game, it’s not an easy comeback. But I thought he got his rhythm and was able to help us.”
USC counted on veteran Jordan McLaughlin to keep the team playing together on the road last season. Enfield didn’t have to worry about McLaughlin, which was quite a luxury. Sunday night will provide more data on the Trojans’ two point guards’ ability to execute in all settings.
“That’s what this is all about,” Enfield said. “That’s the exciting part about college basketball in conference play. It’s challenging, but it’s exciting to go on the road.”
When: Sunday, 5 p.m.
Where: Matthew Knight Arena.
On the air: TV: ESPNU; Radio: 1110.
Update: The Ducks (9-6 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12) were picked as the favorite to win the conference by the media in the preseason, but they’ve failed to live up to those expectations. Oregon has been most affected by the season-ending foot injury to star freshman center Bol Bol. Talented freshman wing Louis King has begun to emerge, averaging 19.5 points and 10 rebounds per game in Oregon’s two conference losses.