They don’t show up as finished products, polished and complete. College basketball players have to develop, individually and as a team.
So forgive the USC Trojans if they stutter ever so slightly at the start to their new season, mixing both struggles and brilliance.
What they absolutely know now is, they are unbeaten in their first two games after overcoming Omaha, 82-72, Sunday evening before a sparse Galen Center crowd of 2,993.
It was not always a dazzling display of basketball — the Trojans trailed, 37-34, at the half — but they regrouped, played to their strengths and used a strong team game in the second half to hold off the mid-major Mavericks.
“We’re just trying to figure each other out,” said USC forward Chimezie Metu. “Last year we took a team trip to Italy and were able to play four games and have a feel for each other. We’re still trying to get used to playing together.”
They did in the second half, outrebounding Omaha 28-19, finding their fastbreak and moving the ball. Five different Trojans ended up scoring in double figures.
Metu, a sophomore, had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Shaqquan Aaron, the sophomore transfer from Louisville who sat out last season, had 16 points. Freshman guard De’Anthony Melton had 13 points, nine rebounds and three steals, guard Jordan McLaughlin had 12 points and five assists, and guard Elijah Stewart, after scoring 30 points in the opener Friday, settled for 11 points on four-for-13 shooting.
Starting forward Bennie Boatwright missed his second consecutive game with back spasms.
“With Bennie Boatwright being injured and three returnees [all starters] and six new players, right now it’s an adjustment period for us,” USC Coach Andy Enfield said. “But I thought our players played an excellent second half defensively and we were able to win the game.”
Sunday’s game started similarly to Friday’s opener against Montana, the Trojans struggling early and quickly falling behind.
The Mavericks went 18-14 last season, return four starters and had beaten UC Santa Barbara, 74-60, on Saturday night. With guard Marcus Tyus hitting three early three-pointers, Omaha jumped to a quick 16-7 lead.
Like the Trojans, the Mavericks like to run, and early on were getting the better of it. Omaha still led by nine late in the first half, then USC began to make a move. Aaron scored eight consecutive points before the Mavericks settled for their three-point lead at the half.
The Trojans went on a 20-6 run midway into the second half to take control, the ball now moving freely and all around the court. Six different Trojans scored during the run.
“That’s what we try to do, share the basketball,” Enfield said. “Offensively we’re not there yet. We’re not hitting on all cylinders. Sometimes the ball sticks a bit and we need to make the extra pass quicker and make quicker decisions. We can’t settle for jump shots when we can drive the ball.
“But it’s coming. I thought tonight, especially in the second half, we scored 48 points and got to the foul line and made some plays.”
The learning curve figures to take a steep jump for the Trojans in their next game, at Texas A&M on Friday.