Lewis, USC turn back Sacramento State
LOS ANGELES – Kevin O’Neill couldn’t believe how ugly his Southern California Trojans looked. The ball squirted just about everywhere when it wasn’t going in the basket.
Dwight Lewis scored 16 points and USC raced to commanding leads in both halves of a sloppy 51-36 victory over Sacramento State on Tuesday night to snap a three-game losing skid.
USC committed a season-worst 25 turnovers, including eight by Alex Stepheson, who also had 10 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven blocked shots in his fourth game of the season. He sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina.
“It was a lot of good, a lot of bad,” he said. “We’re still coming together. We’re still getting chemistry together. It’s a day-by-day process. Slowly but steady, I’m getting my wind back, and my timing is coming back.”
O’Neill was disgusted by his team’s inability to hold on to the ball.
“We were filming a bloopers tape tonight with the turnovers,” he said. “We were just faking all that, I hope. I’m sitting there watching and saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It’s not like they were pressing us. It’s inexplicable.”
Nikola Vucevic added 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds – his fourth double-double of the season – for the Trojans (3-4), who were coming off consecutive blowout losses at No. 2 Texas and Georgia Tech.
“I’m glad we won,” O’Neill said. “It was better than being down 19-0 like we were at Georgia Tech.”
Sultan Toles-Bey scored eight points for the Hornets (4-6), who shot a season-worst 23 percent in losing their second straight and fourth in last five.
The 36 points allowed by the Trojans were their fewest since permitting Bethune-Cookman the same number Dec. 14, 2006, and Sacramento State’s shooting percentage was the lowest by a USC opponent since Loyola Marymount shot 22 percent on Dec. 9, 1998.
“The main thing that hurt us was shot selection, and their defense was very good,” Sacramento State coach Brian Katz said. “I told them to go down the court and get a good shot and fight their big men more. I didn’t think we were doing a very good job of that.”
Lewis, who went scoreless Saturday against Georgia Tech, had a hand in USC’s scoring runs that opened both halves.
After Antonio Flaggs hit a 3-pointer that drew the Hornets within five to start the second half, the Trojans went on a 16-3 run to take a 40-22 lead. Lewis hit two 3-pointers, Donte Smith added another and Vucevic had four points in the spurt.
Lewis made 1 of 2 free throws to give USC its largest lead of the half at 43-22. The Hornets scored six in a row to cut their deficit to 48-36 with 3:18 remaining, but they never got it into single digits.
“A win’s a win, but that was sloppy,” he said. “It’s really unforced turnovers. We were just throwing the thing around. We were bobbling it. We’ve just got to tighten things up.”
While the Hornets missed their first six shots of the game, USC raced to an 18-6 lead, capped by four consecutive points from Lewis that produced the Trojans’ largest lead of the first half.
The Hornets shot 6 of 32 in the first half but outscored the Trojans 10-2 to get within four before USC made the final two baskets to lead 24-16 at the break.
“The first 10 minutes we put ourselves in a hole, and we weren’t able to climb out,” Katz said. “Their turnovers hurt them, but we didn’t come out with any pep.”
USC controlled the boards 49-29 for the fifth consecutive game and had 12 blocked shots, tying a school record.
“Defense is our only chance (to win),” O’Neill said. “We’re not a dribble, pass, shoot team.”
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