A raucous sell-out crowd of 2,753 packed UC Riverside’s cozy Student Recreation Center on Wednesday night for USC’s first visit.
But the Trojans put a muzzle on those fans early and watched many of them file out before their dominant 56-35 victory was complete.
“We played pretty flawless basketball tonight,” USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said, “and we had to.”
It was the fewest points USC (4-4) has yielded since giving up 35 against Oregon State in 1955.
But USC’s offense also played razor sharp, shooting 54% from the floor with six players scoring at least six points, led by Greg Allen’s 11.
The Trojans also held a 24-six advantage in points in the paint — and that was without 7-foot sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon, who sat out his first game after suffering a stress injury in his right foot last week.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with the way everybody stepped it up,” O’Neill said.
Guard Maurice Jones recorded a career-high seven assists and O’Neill credited Jones for the offense’s top-notch efficiency in the last three games, in each of which USC has shot 50% or better.
“Mo is really controlling the game more and more,” he said.
A strong effort was needed against Riverside (2-5), which coming in had won 16 consecutive games against nonconference opponents in the Student Recreation Center.
Moreover, the Highlanders were coming off a comeback win against Washington State in the 76 Classic in Anaheim.
But there would be no comeback against their second Pac-12 Conference opponent in a row.
USC trailed early, 10-2, and the crowd loved it.
“We knew they were going to come out on fire,” Allen said, “but we knew we just had to keep fighting and keep our composure.”
The Trojans did that and responded with a 22-7 run to take control.
Then, USC added a 19-8 push that spanned both halves and jumped ahead, 53-30, with 8 minutes 55 seconds left in the second half.
“Maybe we fed off the crowd’s energy,” said guard Alexis Moore, who scored 10.
The crowd offered little from then on, as USC sat comfortably ahead for the first time all season.
“We’ve been in a bunch of one-possession games,” O’Neill said, “so it felt good not to go right down to the last minute for once.”
In fact, before Wednesday, six of USC’s seven games had been decided by seven points or fewer.
USC also tied a school record by making only one free throw, something it had accomplished three other times (2010, 1979, 1973).
For the game, it took only five, though.
USC can consider it a quality road win in a tough environment, something the Trojans probably will face again Saturday in their game at Minnesota.
O’Neill scheduled that game, but he didn’t schedule this one against Riverside.
“I wouldn’t have scheduled it,” he said.
But he can thank the man who did: Former USC coach Tim Floyd, who played with Riverside Coach Jim Woolridge at Louisiana Tech and had Woolridge as an assistant when Floyd coached the Chicago Bulls.