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USC basketball: Trojans lead No. 18 Tennessee at halftime, 38-32

December 21, 2010 |  5:07 pm

Kevin O'Neill is giving his former team some of his old medicine.

With aggressive defense and a patient offense, O'Neill's longtime trademarks as a coach, his USC Trojans are leading No. 18 Tennessee, the club O'Neill coached for three seasons in the mid-'90s, by a 38-32 margin at halftime. 

Both teams have turnover issues -- USC 10 and Tennessee 11 -- but the Trojans have turned those turnovers into 17 points while the Volunteers have converted them into just five. 

The Trojans trailed for only a few minutes before their defense started to give Tennessee problems. Soon, USC had the Volunteers down by double digits, 21-11, with 8:33 left in the first half, with 11 of those points coming off turnovers.

Tennessee fought back to take the lead, 28-27, but then USC used an 11-4 run to close the half, including consecutive three-point shots by guards Bryce Jones and Donte Smith.

USC is shooting 15 for 26 (57.7%); Tennessee is shooting 10 for 25 (40%).  

Seven players have scored for USC. Senior forward Alex Stepheson has a team-high nine points, and guards Jio Fontan and Jones have eight.

Guard Tobias Harris leads Tennessee with 10 points.  

USC wasn't sure which Tennessee team would show up tonight, the one that beat two top-10 opponents in No. 7 Villanova and No. 3 Pittsburgh or the one that just fell to mid-majors Oakland and Charlotte

So far, it looks like the latter Volunteers squad.

And as for O'Neill, who is making his first return to Knoxville since his less-than-gracious exit in 1997 following three seasons as Tennessee's head coach, the large crowd here at Thompson-Boling Arena mostly booed him when he was introduced.

And then that crowd cheered when O'Neill was called for a technical foul 5:20 before halftime for arguing with a referee following a no-call when Smith hit the floor after contact with a Tennessee player. 

-- Baxter Holmes in Knoxville, Tenn.