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USC basketball: Trojans lead at Nebraska at halftime, 39-26

November 27, 2010 |  4:26 pm

The halftime score at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Neb., is somewhat deceiving. It states that the USC men's basketball team is leading Nebraska, 39-26.

That score seems close, but for virtually all of the first half, it wasn't. 

USC played a nearly flawless first frame, leading by as many as 20 points twice because of its excellent passing, shot selection and well-balanced contributions from across the lineup. 

In fact, the Trojans were playing so well that Coach Kevin O'Neill put in walk-on junior guard Eric Strangis with 1:45 left in the first half, which for O'Neill is a move that's as rare as a four-leaf clover.  

But O'Neill had to be praising his team in the locker room after his team just played its best 20 minutes of basketball so far this season.

Nebraska went on a 9-3 run, including consecutive three-point jumpers from guard Caleb Walker, to close the half and make it somewhat close, but before that it was all USC.

The game began pretty much as a run. USC shot five for 10 and led 10-2 with 13:32 left. That lead kept building until it reached 32-12, and then later, 37-17, when freshman forward Garrett Jackson nailed a corner three-pointer.

In the first half, the Trojans outrebounded Nebraska, 17-11, and made 17 of 30 (56.7%) shots, compared to Nebraska's 10 of 24 (41.7%). USC's best player in the half may well have been senior forward Alex Stepheson, who, despite his fractured left hand, has eight points on four-of-five shooting along with three rebounds.

Backup senior guard Donte Smith could qualify for USC's first-half MVP honors too. He made all three of his shots, including two three-point tries, to score a team-high eight points. 

Jackson had seven points and made all three of his shots for USC. Freshman guard Maurice Jones had seven points and five assists. Junior forward Nikola Vucevic missed eight of his nine shots but had seven rebounds and had been key in helping USC move the ball.

And that is why the Trojans led at halftime: They moved the ball.

O'Neill stressed that point at practice Friday, and the Trojans apparently listened. On many of the first-half possessions, the ball didn't touch the ground. It was just whipped around, to inside players and then back out, until someone had an open shot.

USC also played very well on defense, denying most every shot and doing a good job blocking out when a shot went up. Nebraska looked completely overmatched in the first half, but we'll see how USC fares in the second. 

-- Baxter Holmes in Lincoln, Neb.

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