January 4, 2013 by Jacob Freedman
By Jacob Freedman
Well, that was a wild ride. In the waning moments of both squads’ conference opener USC point guard Jio Fontan nailed two free throws to give USC a 71-69 lead with seven seconds left , and Stanford missed two final shot attempts, including a put-back dunk, to give the Trojans a hard-fought victory. Down by nine at the half, the Trojans clawed back to tie the game at 51 with 10:56 left. From there, the Trojans and Cardinal traded blows until four late free throws by Fontan sealed the game. The Trojans match not only their Pac-12 win total from last year (1), but also move to 6-8 overall, which matches their total in the win column from 2011-12 (6-26) as well.
Fontan had a season-high 15 points to lead the Trojans. The ever-consistent Eric Wise had a quiet 14 points, but the biggest surprise came from the Trojans’ smallest player. An anonymous, 5’9″ walk-on freshman point guard, Chass Bryan had a career-high 10 points on five of six shooting. Bryan took a few ludicrous shots that managed to fall, but also demonstrated that he’s a smaller, but speedier alternative to Byron Wesley as the second guard on the floor along with Fontan. Shooting guard J.T. Terrell is still relegated to the second team, and three turnovers along with an ill-advised three-point attempt in his eight minutes against the Cardinal didn’t help him earn any more playing time down the road. With Wesley able to slide to the 3, chances are Bryan earned himself some significant playing time as the Pac-12 season kicks into gear.
The other reason the Trojans emerged victorious was the defensive performance of seven-footers Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby. Dedmon fouled out after just eleven minutes, but he played with an aggressiveness and passion that I wish we saw more often. Plus, he actually made a couple of jumpers. That, my friends, is progress. As for Oraby, he played 23 minutes due to Dedmon’s foul trouble and finished with three blocks, including a swat of Stanford’s Dwight Powell that led to a fast-break layup by Bryan on the other end. Oraby’s 7-foot-2 size has and will continue to confound opposing big men, and the Rice transfer did not show fatigue down the stretch despite playing his second-most minutes all season. Stanford’s two starting big men in Josh Huestis and Powell finished with 21 points, but did so on just eight of 23 shooting. Thank you size gods.
The game could have gone either way. Stanford shot just 26.6 percent from the floor in the second half, and the Cardinal big men botched more than their fair share of easy put-backs and tip-ins. USC finished with their most fouls (22) since the season opener, but I’ll take the tenacity and shot-challenging playing style of Dedmon, Wise, and Bryan (a combined 13 fouls) any day of the week over a lackadaisical defensive effort. There is always room to improve for a sub-.500 squad, but it looks like coach Kevin O’Neill is finally settling in on his eight/nine-man rotation.
The Trojans also defeated Dayton last Sunday, giving them a two-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s home game against Cal. The early stretches haven’t been fun, but if Thursday night is any indicator, this Trojan team is better than their record might indicate.
If nothing, at least we’re better than Stanford in basketball. You heard it here first.