December 19, 2013 by Jacob Freedman
By Jacob Freedman
It was the dogfight most expected. Down 16 in the second half, USC clawed back in the game’s final 10 minutes, actually taking the lead before Long Beach State’s Mike Caffey hit a runner to lead the 49ers to a 72-71 victory over the Trojans.
In their second true road game of the season, USC trailed almost the entire game before kicking things into gear late. After LBSU pushed their lead to 62-49, the Trojans went on an 11-0 run, fueled by one of Pe’Shon Howard’s five three-pointers of the night, to cut the deficit to two. LBSU answered to push it back to 66-60, but a slam and three-point play by Oraby kept USC in it, trailing 70-69. After LBSU guard Tyler Lamb dribbled the ball off his foot on the next play, Julian Jacobs hit a runner to give USC a 71-70 lead.
Out of the timeout, Caffey weaved through the lane and hit a layup to put LBSU back up 72-71. Howard missed a three on the other hand, LBSU missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Byron Wesley’s running three at the buzzer veered right. “They set a double ball screen, and one of our guards didn’t switch on it. He switched too late, I guess,” head coach Andy Enfield said on Caffey’s game-deciding layup.
Despite having played only 27 minutes in USC’s first 10 games, freshman guard Kahlil Dukes started in place of leading scorer and team captain Wesley. USC forced two quick turnovers and took a quick 7-2 lead, but the 49ers rebounded quickly. In his season debut, Lamb hit his first shot, a three-pointer, and had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first half.
After USC cut the deficit to 16-15, LBSU went on a 12-1 to extend the lead into double digits. USC got the lead back down to eight at 39-31, but a high-arcing three by Lamb and slick drive by Caffey pushed the 49ers to a 50-36 halftime lead.
Things didn’t improve initially in the second half, but the Trojans were a new team defensively. The 49ers scored just 12 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half, with USC never falling completely out and setting up their inspired, but ultimately fruitless late run.
Will We See J.T.?
-J.T. Terrell is now eligible after sitting out USC’s last seven games, but didn’t play tonight despite dressing. According to Enfield, it’s because he hasn’t practiced with a team for a month and needs to learn the plays learned during his absence. “The semester ended yesterday and today was a game, and he doesn’t know what we’re doing on offense or defense. He’s valuable to our team, so we hope we can get back quickly,” Enfield said. Terrell will be flying with the team to Dayton for Sunday’s game.
The game became a 50-50 affair in the last two minutes. Oraby had a great off-balance three-point play, with the late free throw valuable considering the 7-foot-2 center’s struggles from the line. The double-team on Lamb worked on the follow possession, and the fast-break tempo on Jacobs’ make gave USC’s its first (and only) lead of the second half.
Unfortunately, things went downhill in the final 1:05. Wesley didn’t switch off the ball screen, and Caffey, who led all scorers with 22 points, made him pay. “He got a really good look, and I was kind of late closing out,” Wesley said. USC’s next offensive set seemed frenzied, resulting in a Howard three that clanked out. Enfield liked the play, considering how Howard had shot from three, but the improved ball movement still could not find an easier look.
This year’s leading scorer and captain, Byron Wesley, didn’t start for the first time this season and second in his USC career, sitting out until 8:24 left in the first half. USC was down by 10 when he checked back in, and he didn’t have a point in his six first-half minutes.
“It was a coach’s decision,” Enfield said on sitting Wesley. “We felt like some other guys deserved to start the game and play in the first half.” Howard said the decision surprised him. “It was a little off-the-wall. [We found out] when we came back in [from warm-ups] and coach drew the starting lineup on the board,” he said.
He scored only 12 points in his three games against USC with UCLA, but the transfer guard exceeded that total in 12 first-half minutes. Simply put, the former Bruin was near-unstoppable initially in his first game eligible for the 49ers. He cut his way into the lane, hit jump shots in transition, nailed floaters and stole the ball on one hand before driving down for a layup. The crowd in Long Beach rose to its feet when he checked in, and his arcing three late in the first half sent the crowd at Walter Pyramid into a frenzy.
He was quiet in the second half – give credit to Wesley’s defense for holding Lamb to 0-of-5 shooting after the intermission – but his LBSU debut contributed to the Trojans’ big hole that they had to dig out of.
It was a quiet, but solid game for USC’s tallest player. He finished with his first double-double of the season, nabbing 17 points on six shots to go with 10 rebounds. He had a crucial late dunk followed by the aforementioned three-point play, and got more aggressive on the defensive boards as the game progressed. It helped that no 49er who played was over 6-foot-9, but this was one of his better games this year after scoring in single figures his previous five games.
-With a 3-of-3 outing from the field, center D.J. Haley is now shooting 79 percent from the floor this season.
-Julian Jacobs had another breakaway dunk, but this time opted for a two-handed slam after missing a one-handed tomahawk against Bakersfield. “We went over that,” Enfield chuckled after being asked if he said anything to Jacobs after the miss last Sunday.
-USC’s next game is at Dayton. The Flyers are 9-2, with wins over then-No. 11 Gonzaga and Cal.