Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jio Fontan scored a season-high 15 points and knocked down four late free throws to help lead USC (6-8, 1-0) to a 71-69 victory over Stanford (9-5, 0-1) Thursday night at the Galen Center.
-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment(s): Dedmon Dominates Stretch. USC center Dewayne Dedmon was in foul trouble the entire night, but he was still productive even though he only played 11 minutes. In the second half, he managed only six minutes in between picking up three fouls to foul out of the game. But those six minutes were dynamic.
He scored 11 points, grabbed three rebounds and added a steal. When he checked into the game the final time with 5:56 remaining, he made his biggest impact. USC fed him the ball on the left block three consecutive possessions and the raw 7-footer showed just how good he can be.
"Dewayne Dedmon came back in with 4 fouls and really really took charge of the game," head coach Kevin O'Neill said.
Dedmon made a baby hook shot followed by a jump stop, fadeaway in the lane and then gathered a nice feed from Jio Fontan and got fouled on the third possession. After a media timeout, Dedmon took to the free throw line and knocked down both shots. He then snagged a rebound over two offensive players on the other end, but was called for a questionable foul as he tried to rip away from one Stanford player's arm.
Most Spectacular Play: Oraby block leads to steal & layup. Dedmon's second half play kept the Trojans in the game, but it was the next basket that brought the crowd to its feet. Stanford leading scorer Dwight Powell tried to shoot a shot over Omar Oraby in the middle of the lane, but Oraby swatted it away. The ball headed toward the sideline near midcourt. Powell chased it down and made an off-balance attempt to fire it back in to Stanford teammate Aaron Bright.
Diminutive freshman point guard Chass Bryan got just enough of the ball to flick it into the air and toward the USC basket. Bryan fervently fled after the ball, grabbed it in front of Bright and put a layup off the glass before a defender could come from behind to try to block his shot. It was USC's only fastbreak basket of the second half, but it gave the Trojans the momentum with just more than two minutes remaining.
"His steal was probably the biggest play of the game," said Fontan. "It just changed everything."
Player of the game: Jio Fontan. On Sunday against Dayton, Fontan injured his thumb, but he did not let it slow him down against Stanford. The senior guard had one of his best games of the year, scoring a season-high 15 points, dishing out four assists with only one turnover and adding a steal and even a block. Fontan had USC's final four points of the game as the 74 percent free throw shooter (entering the game) calmly knocked down two sets of free throws, including the game-winning pair with 6.9 seconds left.
"I couldn't ask for more. He controlled the game completely down the stretch, did a great job of leading our team, clutch free throws, clutch baskets, clutch plays," O'Neill said. "That's what you want your senior captain to do and he did all those things tonight."
Fontan's offense wasn't the only aspect of his game that stood out. He also locked down the Cardinal's leading perimeter weapon Chasson Randle, which O'Neill said was the team's focus going into the game. Randle, who was averaging 13.8 points entering the game, finished o-for-6 and was held scoreless for the first time in his Stanford career. He also committed three turnovers.
Of Fontan's defensive effort, O'Neill said it was "no fluke" that Dayton point guard Kevin Dillard went 1 for 10 and Stanford point guards Randle and Aaron Bright combined to go 3 for 16,
Unsung Hero: Chass Bryan. Backup point guard Chass Bryan had played more than 20 minutes once this season. In fact, he's only played 27 minutes total the last four games, but Thursday night against Stanford, Bryan made the most of his opportunity. He came into the game with strong defensive intensity and energy. Plus, he was able to get his offense going. He hit two off-balance floaters in the first half on his way to a career-high 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. The smallest player on the court also tied a career high with three rebounds.
"I really liked what Chass was bringing us in terms of pushing the ball, being aggressive and defensively," O'Neill said. "We got some contributions from some freshman (Bryan and Brendyn Taylor played a combined 28 minutes in the second half) that you normally don't expect down the stretch in a big time game."
"Step It Up:" Questionable calls. The Pac-12 football referees are much maligned on the West Coast. There is a running joke on Twitter about their ineptitude. Maybe the Pac-12 refs' troubles weren't just on the gridiron? Traveling violations were screamed for by the benches many times, but only one was called.
There were several questionable calls and a number of seemingly obvious fouls that weren't called, including Fontan being ragdolled across the lane after a Stanford basket, JT Terrell being clotheslined on a drive to the basket and Aaron Fuller taking out a Cardinal player with the ball on a spill right in front of the sideline referee. While the crowd felt the majority of the calls went against USC, there were plenty of bad calls for both teams.
Key stat: +9. At halftime, USC trailed by nine points and it was in large part due to a 12-rebound deficit. Stanford grabbed 20 of the 28 rebounds in the first half and scored 11 second-chance points. The only Trojan with more than one rebound was shooting guard Byron Wesley, who had three. But O'Neill's halftime speech must have fired up the Trojans because they came out with new vigor and battled to a +9 rebounding margin in the second half. USC's second half defense played a large role as Stanford's 26.7 percent shooting led to more rebounding opportunities.
Sideline Strategy: We've already mentioned Bryan's uptick in playing time, but fellow freshman Brendyn Taylor also saw an increase. After only 10 minutes in the last three games combined, Taylor played the penultimate 10 minutes of Thursday night's contest. Some of those minutes came in the place of Byron Wesley, who left the game twice because of apparent back spasms -- with the second time causing enough pain that Wesley had to be taken to the locker room. But the majority of Bryan and Taylor's minutes came from JT Terrell's playing time.
Terrell, USC"s second leading scorer, played only eight minutes. Though he made his first field goal in 13 attempts -- stretching back to the beginning of the second half of the Georgia game -- Terrell also turned the ball over three times. His two misses were both decent shot selections. He got open looks thanks to the penetration of his teammates, but couldn't knock them down.
Another player whose minutes were down was 7-footer James Blasczyk. Even with Dedmon playing sparingly, Blasczyk managed only four first half minutes. O'Neill went with a small lineup late in the game and used Eric Wise at the power forward position for extended minutes.
Quote of the Night: USC head coach Kevin O'Neill on Byron Wesley's injury:
"He said quote, his shit locked up. I don't quite know what that means. When I was a kid, that meant something different."
Where They Stand: The Trojans won a hard-fought battle in which they had to rally from an early deficit. They currently sit atop the Pac-12 Conference standings with a 1-0 record. USC won a gritty game with two starters unavailable at the end and two freshmen guards on the court. If the Trojans season was going to turn around, the win over Stanford could very well be the catalyst.
"You have to get sick of losing at some point. You have to quit worrying about your stats at some point. You have to start worrying about winning," O'Neill said. "When winning's most important thing, you can do good things; when it's not the most important thing, bad things happen."