-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment(s): Draw it Up, Take it to the Rack. After forcing a shot clock violation on defense, Long Beach State called a timeout with 24.9 seconds remaining. In the huddle, 49ers head coach Dan Monson drew up a staggered, double high screen at the top of the key for junior leading scorer Mike Caffey. Big man David Samuels, being guarded by Omar Oraby, set a screen on Julian Jacobs.
Oraby attempted to hedge and potentially switch, but the second screen from Tyler Lamb hits Oraby blindly. Lamb's defender, Byron Wesley, was looking at Samuels potentially rolling to the basket. Wesley's head being slightly turned was a shining beacon to Caffey, who turned the corner stepping on a dime and accelerating through the small gap in the defense. He already had a step on Wesley and split through freshman defender Nikola Jovanovic, who was a step too slow to cut off the penetration and force Caffey to pass to the perimeter.
"Wake Up Lil' Susie." USC's defense never woke up in the first half. Long Beach State was able to score early and often, hitting the half-century mark in the first 20 minutes. Lamb, a UCLA transfer playing in his first game as a 49er after being forced to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules, came off the bench and scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half.
"We didn't play well in the first half. That's all it was," Howard said. "That might have been their best half all year and we weren't up to the challenge to begin with."
No Prospects. The 49ers were historically known for their gold-finding ability. For a stretch of the second half, they couldn't find any paydirt. Long Beach State went on a 6:29 stretch without a point, allowing USC to cut a 62-49 lead down to two points.
Crunch Time Possessions. USC took its first lead of the second half with 1:11 remaining. Julian Jacobs stepped in the passing lane, swiped a pass and ran the distance, laying the ball in to put the Trojans up 71-70. They wouldn't have another positive possession. They were called for a shot clock violation after Pe'Shon Howard dribbled the ball for more than half the shot clock and then tried to dish to a cutting Wesley as the clock was expiring.
Howard had a chance to redeem himself on the next possession after Caffey's bucket put the 49ers ahead. Byron Wesley drove into the middle of the defense and dished out to Howard. The senior transfer from Maryland had a good look at the shot, but he hit the front of the rim and Long Beach State was able to grab the rebound.
"It was on line, but I had a problem all day with leaning back on my shot," Howard said of the miss.
Branford Jones missed both free throws with 5 seconds left. USC quickly got the ball to Wesley. He took the ball across the centerline and got to just beyond the top of the key before launching a desperation shot as the buzzer sounded.
Player of the game: Omar Oraby. What a game by the big fella -- his most complete of the season. Oraby finished with 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and a perfect 7-for-7 at the charity stripe. The 7-foot-2 Egyptian native also grabbed 10 rebounds.
"We need that type of energy, that type of activity, that type of passion," Enfield said. "...move his feet, to be strong, to demand the ball, to be physical and he did that tonight on both ends of the floor."
Oraby was having a strong enough performance, especially late in the second half when he scored seven points in the final 5:03. Normally Enfield switches Oraby out offense for defense at the end of games, bringing in the more mobile D.J. Haley, but with Oraby's level of play on both ends of the court, Enfield left the big man on the court.
"Omar was playing so well. He was moving his feet. He was really affecting the shots," Enfield said of Oraby's defense. "He was challenging shots. He was rebounding and he deserved to be in the end because he played his best game of the year."
Most Spectacular Play(s): Steal-ing the Lead. On Sunday, Julian Jacobs was promptly dismissed to the bench after clanking a dunk off the rim when he tried to tomahawk it home. On Thursday, Jacobs got a fast break dunk in the second half and threw it down calmly, but it was the ball he didn't try to dunk that was most impressive.
With USC trailing 70-69, Jacobs swiped a weak pass near half court and took a step advantage on Mike Caffey. The Trojan freshman produced a veteran move, using his left arm to shield Caffey as he flew by when Jacobs went up for the layup attempt. He then rotated his hand under the ball and put it up of the glass, only touching the ball with his left hand for support at the last second. The bucket gave USC's it's first -- and only -- lead of the second half.
Unsung Hero: Nikola Jovanovic. The 6-foot-10 freshman continues to quietly impress with solid numbers almost every time out. Nikola Jovanovic had 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting with only one shot coming outside the paint. He also collected seven boards and had a block.
"Step It Up:" Where Was Wesley? USC head coach Andy Enfield said the reason he didn't start the Trojans' leading scorer and rebounder, Byron Wesley, was a "coach's decision." Wesley said the same.
If it was just a coach's decision, it was a terrible one.
"Yeah, that was kind of a little off the wall," Pe'Shon Howard said of Wesley not starting.
By the time Wesley entered the game with 8:28 to go in the first half, Long Beach State had already taken a double-digit lead, 28-18.
Wesley was never able to get into the rhythm of the game. He only played six minutes in the first half, shooting and missing two shots. He started the second half on the cushions as well. Though he played 15 minutes, Wesley wasn't his normal aggressive self. He didn't score until there was 3:38 left and finished the game with just 2 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Not only was Wesley 1-for-7 from the floor, he also didn't make it to the free throw line for a single attempt for the first time this season.
Maybe the biggest indicator that Wesley wasn't playing like himself was on the Trojans' next-to-last possession when Wesley drove into the lane and set up Howard's three-point attempt. Before he even got mid-air, he was looking to pass despite no shot blocker jumping. Instead of being the aggressor, Wesley was passive.
Enfield was probably trying to make a point about something Wesley did either in practice or off the court. But the point made was how much USC needs Wesley.
Key stat(s): 2. USC's leading scorer, Byron Wesley, entered averaging 17.3 points per game. He scored two points. He did not make a trip to the free throw line for the first time this season after shooting 14 freebies last game.
9-for-30. The Trojans got back into the game in the second half because they finally played some defense. Long Beach State shot only 30 percent in the final 20 minutes. Tyler Lamb was held to two second-half points (0-for-5 FG) after 18 in the first half.
14. Long Beach State had 14 fast break points in the first half. USC had 0. The 49ers won the battle 16-4.
15-to-2. The 49ers assist-to-turnover ratio was a nearly unfathomable 15-to-2 in the first half.
0. J.T. Terrell was reinstated and dressed, but he received zero playing time. Enfield said Terrell didn't play because "he hasn't practiced in a month...a month and a half." It'll be interesting to see if Terrell is used on Sunday at Dayton considering the Trojans will likely get in a full practice on Friday and a light walk-through on Saturday.
Quote of the Night:
"Obviously, when you sit your leading scorer for that time, it's an internal decision, a coach's decision. It's not like he's done anything really wrong. It's more of a 'Hey, we're a team here and everyone's equally important to this team." -- Andy Enfield talking about sitting Byron Wesley
Where They Stand: USC fell to 1-4 away from home this season. The Trojans once again had a significant lull. This time it was defensively in the first half. They played much better in the second half, clogging up the middle of the lane and forcing Long Beach State to shoot over them rather than get open layups. USC also did a much better job getting back on defense. After the 49ers had 26 points in the paint in the first half (with 14 fast-break points), they only had 16 second half points in the paint (with 2 fast-break points).
Until USC learns to play a full 40 minutes, the Trojans will continue to look like a team talented enough to possibly vie for an NCAA tournament bid one minute and then a team that could lose to a Division II squad the next (as they almost did against West Alabama). As of now, USC is not ready for Pac-12 conference play. It needs to continue to jell and get on the same page. The Trojans have two more non-conference games to make that happen with a trip to Dayton on Sunday (2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT) and a home matchup a week later against Howard (2 p.m. PT).