Kevin's revenge

The ninth-ranked Tennessee Vols did not suffer any significant injuries in Saturday's game with unranked Southern Cal. So much for the positives ...

Everything else was a negative as the Big Orange came out on the short end of a 77-55 beat-down at The Galen Center in Los Angeles.

Tennessee shot a putrid 34.5 percent (20-58) from the floor, a microscopic 9.1 percent (2-22) from beyond the 3-point arc and an anemic 52 percent (13 of 25) from the foul line. The listless Vols managed just 5 assists and lost the backboard battle 43-21.

USC, shooting just 42.8 percent through eight games, shot 56.1 percent (23-41) against the Vols. If not for 20 turnovers, the Trojans might've beaten Tennessee by 30 points.

"That's really just about as poor as we can possibly play," UT coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "Obviously, we're embarrassed and disappointed. I thought there were times when the guys looked defeated."

Dwight Lewis scored 21 points to pace Southern Cal, now 5-4. Alex Stepheson added 19 and 15 rebounds. Nikola Vucovic contributed a double-double, as well, with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Senior point guard Mike Gerrity was an unlikely hero with 12 points and 10 assists. He was playing his first game as a Trojan, thanks to an NCAA progress-towards-degree waiver he received this week after transferring in from Charlotte a year ago.

Scotty Hopson scored 16 points and Melvin Goins 10 for the Vols, who fall to 8-2. All-America forward Tyler Smith continued to struggle, making just 1 of 6 shots and finishing with 3 points.

The victory had to be extra sweet for Trojan coach Kevin O'Neill, who guided the UT program from 1994-97. Meanwhile, the loss had to be extra bitter for Pearl, who watched his team suffer the most lopsided loss of his five-year tenure.

"It was kind of a perfect storm," he said. "Southern Cal's bigs played big. Both of 'em had double-doubles and played the entire game."

Tennessee typically wears out opponents with pace and depth. That did not work in this game. Pearl used a dozen players, whereas six got almost all of the playing time for USC. Even so, the Trojans were the stronger team at game's end.

"They obviously were in great, great condition," Pearl said. "We succumbed a little bit ourselves to fatigue. We try to wear people down. Instead, eight or nine guys got worn down by about six guys for Southern Cal."

Tennessee started slowly, scoring just 5 points in the game's first 10 minutes. Southern Cal was struggling offensively, too, however, and led just 11-5 at that point.

The score was 19-all with four minutes left to intermission, then Southern Cal closed the half with a 14-1 run to grab a 33-20 lead. Marcus Johnson sparked the surge by hitting a 3-pointer, two free throws and an 18-footer.

Tennessee was outrebounded 24-7 in the first half and did not have an offensive rebound the entire first 20 minutes.

The second half wasn't much better. Southern Cal outscored the Vols 7-2 to pad the lead to 40-22, and Tennessee mounted only one mild threat the rest of the game. Smith's only basket, the putback of a missed free throw, got the deficit to 12 at 50-38 with 11:19 remaining. Lewis then scored seven consecutive USC points - draining two jumpers and three free throws - to ignite a 14-2 explosion that widened the gap to 64-40 with 6:57 to play.

Tennessee, whose 40.6 percentage ranked among the national leaders in 3-point accuracy coming in, made just 2 of 13 in the first half and 0 of 9 in the second. That was devastating.

"Our defense was playing very, very well early," Pearl said. "But offensively we were pathetic.... How do you bring people out of a packed-in man-to-man? You make some shots. When you don't make shots, there's the perfect storm.

"Obviously, we're terribly, terribly disappointed.... I didn't step up and our players didn't step up."

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