Trojans Impress in Opening Win

After a tumultuous offseason in which Tim Floyd resigned and three of the Trojans' top four scorers left school early, expectations were very low heading into Tuesday's home opener, but that didn't stop Dwight Lewis and the USC Trojans from putting together a very impressive 77-67 win over UC Riverside.

After a tumultuous offseason in which Tim Floyd resigned and three of the Trojans' top four scorers left school early, expectations were very low heading into Tuesday's home opener, but that didn't stop Dwight Lewis and the USC Trojans from putting together a very impressive 77-67 win over UC Riverside.

"We played solid enough basketball to win by 10 points, which with the group that we are playing with right now numbers-wise, was something that I didn't know if we could do," head coach Kevin O'Neill said.

Lewis, the only USC starter that averaged over 3 points per game last season, got the Trojans' offense rolling early by scoring the first seven points of the game.

With Trojans' quick start on offense and a harassing defense that limited the Highlanders to 33.3% shooting from the field in the first half, USC built a double-digit lead early and never trailed in the game.

As expected, Lewis was the Trojans most productive offensive weapon, scoring a game-high 22 points while going 7-of-14 from the field and connecting on three 3-pointers.

With only seven players getting playing time because of injuries and eligibility issues, the Trojans got big efforts from guards Donte Smith and Marcus Simmons.

Smith, the Trojans only true point guard that was active Tuesday night, played all 40 minutes for the Men of Troy and looked like a completely different player from a year ago.

"He has improved almost every day in practice," O'Neill said. "For a guy that hasn't played hardly any minutes, to play forty minutes in an opener, and play that well, really says something about him."

The junior guard from Pomona shot the ball with confidence from the perimeter, connecting on 2-of-4 three point attempts and finished the game with 12points while taking just 8 shots.

Marcus Simmons, who was used mainly as a defensive stopper under Floyd, set a career-high with 18 points in the victory.

"Coach gives me confidence. He tells me to be aggressive, so I look forward to making big plays on both ends of the court," Simmons said.

Simmons supplied plenty of offense when Dwight Lewis was briefly sidelined with cramps, scoring seven straight points for the Trojans and keeping Riverside from making a run with some tough defensive play.

"I thought Marcus Simmons, during one stretch, dominated the game on both ends, which was really big for us," O'Neill said. "I thought he played exceptionally well."

6-foot-10 sophomore Nikola Vucevic provided the points in the paint and showed plenty of growth and potential Tuesday night, scoring 18 points and adding a team-high 8 rebounds.

Freshman Evan Smith wasn't even expected to contribute at all in the opener because of an injured shoulder, but came off the bench and added 5 points, while playing 33 minutes in his first game on the college level.

Kevin O'Neill made his debut as the new men's basketball coach and had a very good night, getting a win and building his team's confidence in the process.

"I thought our whole team played well," O'Neill said. "I am really proud of our effort and proud of our team. I am more than happy with any win, anytime, anywhere."

With an encouraging opening victory, the Trojans now will look to make it two straight when they face Loyola Marymount Saturday night at the Galen Center.

"I think the team came together tonight and I hope we can build from this win and look forward to LMU on Saturday," Marcus Simmons said.


Donte Smith scored 12 points in 40 minutes of play against UCR. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)

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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at kevin@scplaybook.com



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