-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment(s): 24 minutes, 18 seconds. With 10:07 remaining in the first half, UC Riverside's Chris Patton made a jumper to cut USC's early lead to 16-8. That was the last time the Highlanders had a chance. For the next 24:18, the USC defense held Riverside to ONE field goal -- a Lucas Devenny jumper with 3:23 to go in the first half. Following Devenny's basket, UC Riverside went 17:45 without a field goal, managing only one free throw. USC's lead ballooned up to more than 40 points where it stayed for the final 5+ minutes.
Player of the game: Jio Fontan. Coming back from a knee injury is never an easy process. In the post-game press conference, USC coach Kevin O'Neill said it's tougher when you are a premier player on the team rather than a role player because premier players are supposed to be able to step back in and immediately shine.
But on Saturday night, "Jio looked the most confident he's been since his knee injury," O'Neill said.
Fontan agreed that it was his best shooting performance of the season and each game he is getting closer to returning to where he was before he tore his left ACL. Fontan scored 14 points to finish tied with Eric Wise for the game-high. He made five of his six field goals, including a perfect 3-for-3 on 3-pointers. He also had six assists to only one turnover and grabbed five rebounds.
Most Spectacular Play: Dedmon alley oop. USC only had two fast break points on the night, but they were the two prettiest points of the night. Riverside's Robert Smith got a steal, but missed the layup, allowing the Trojans to counterattack. Eric Wise grabbed the missed bunny and fired the ball to Fontan, who brought the ball up just to the left side of the lane. One step past the free throw line, he floated up a pass to the right side of the rim. Dewayne Dedmon filled the lane, caught the ball and threw down an agressive slam while a Riverside defender tried to get out of the way.
Unsung Hero: Dewayne Dedmon. Playing alongside Omar Oraby in the starting lineup for the first time, the other half of USC's twin towers had one of his best all-around games. Dedmon made two of his four two-point field goal attempts and both of his free throws for a quiet six points, but it was his defensive presence that stood out. Dedmon blocked six shots, including four in the first half that effectively scared the Highlander perimeter players from driving to the basket. Dedmon also pulled down eight rebounds, had one assist and had one steal.
"Step It Up:" First half turnovers. There's very little to ask for the Trojans to step up after such a dominant performance, but the one thing that KO is likely to harp on in practice this week is the team's first half turnovers. USC shot 71 percent in the first half, but had eight less shots than Riverside because of nine turnovers, including eight in the first 12 minutes of the game.
The Trojans need to bring the same intensity and play for 40 minutes like they did for the first time this season on Saturday night, but they also have to take care of the ball better early. Turning the ball over so often early in the game is how USC has fallen into early holes that it hasn't been able to overcome.
Key stat: 19.0%. USC held the Highlanders to 19 percent shooting as Riverside made only 11-of-58 field goals. Before finishing the game six for their final 11, the Highlanders were shooting 10.6 percent with just more than five minutes remaining. While the Trojans played some strong defense led by Dedmon's six blocks and another three from Oraby, the Highlanders shooting was just abhorrent. Riverside's 26 points was a new school record for scoring futility in the shot clock era, besting the school's previous low of 29 points.
Sideline Strategy: O'Neill switched up the starting lineup, sitting leading scorer JT Terrell for Oraby. But instead of being demoted to the sixth man or the second team, Terrell was demoted to mop-up duty. He and former Wake Forest teammate Ari Stewart, who has played some big minutes off the bench in earlier games, were the last players to enter the game -- subbing in with 1:22 left in the game and USC up by 41 points.
"As we go forward here, we're going to play energy guys," O'Neill said afterward. "We're going to play the guys that play the hardest all the time. We're not going to compromise team play. We're going to do the right thing every night."
With USC going with a bigger starting lineup, post players Aaton Fuller and James Blasczyk also saw more minutes subbing in for Oraby and Dedmon. Freshman guard Brendyn Taylor saw double-digit minutes for the second game in a row after playing only four minutes total in the team's first eight games. He played solid defense and knocked down a 3-pointer.
Senior reserve Renaldo Woolridge, who entered averaging 3.6 minutes per game, also saw an increase in playing time, getting nine minutes in the Terrell and Stewart's absence. He made a 3-pointer almost immediately after checking in and finished with two rebounds and a block.
It will be interesting to see how the rotations continue to play out, especially if Terrell and Stewart start showing the energy and team play that O'Neill is demanding.