USC basketball: Trojans blow out Cal State Fullerton, 81-54
And perhaps the Trojans came back through the line for second and third helpings, plus an extra slice or two of pumpkin pie.
Or maybe as a gag someone just laced the Trojans’ water with tryptophan -- the turkey-dwelling amino acid rumored to cause post-Thanksgiving meal drowsiness.
Choose your excuse for USC’s slow start in its 81-54 win against Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday at the Galen Center.
But to explain its strong finish, look no further, or higher, than 5-foot-7 freshman guard Maurice Jones.
Jones scored a game-high 20 points on eight-for-15 shooting and keyed a strong second-half surge that began just after halftime and put the game out of the reach for the Titans (1-4).
USC (4-2) led, 36-35, at the 17:58 mark in the second half, but responded with a 14-4 run.
After that run, the Titans scored two quick buckets to cut USC’s lead to nine.
That’s where Jones came on, scoring 10 points in a 16-4 run that put the Trojans up, 66-47, with 8:03 left.
Jones shot one for five in the first half, and seven for 10 in the second, as the Trojans worked to get him the ball quickly after rebounds and turnovers, and he used his quickness to do the rest, speeding by defenders to either score or find open teammates.
He also had five assists and four rebounds.
USC got a strong performance from senior forward Alex Stepheson, who is playing with a hard cast on his fractured left hand suffered in USC’s season-opening win against UC Irvine on Nov. 13.
Stepheson played his best game since the injury, recording a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Junior forward Nikola Vucevic added his Pacific-10 Conference-leading fourth double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Vucevic also had five assists, his third game with as many, as USC again went to its zone-busting offense that runs through him stationed at the top of the key.
The game began with each team throwing bricks at the rim. By the 11:19 mark in the first half, they were a combined nine for 27 and the Trojans led, 12-8.
Things picked up from there, but only slightly before USC led 32-30 at halftime.
After that, only USC picked it up.
In the foregone-conclusion category, USC out-rebounded the Titans, whose tallest players are 6-foot-7, by a 41-29 margin. They’ve won that edge in five of their six games this season.
The win came with a sparse student section, most of them likely on Thanksgiving break.
The Trojans won’t enjoy such a break as they’ll spend Thanksgiving Day en route to Lincoln, Neb., where teeth-chattering weather and Doc Sadler’s Cornhuskers await for Saturday, USC’s first true road game this season.
USC played like turkeys outside of the Galen Center last season, winning just two of 11 games road games.
-- Baxter Holmes
Photo: USC point guard Maurice Jones shoots over Fullerton guard Eric Williams in the first half Wednesday at the Galen Center. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times