USC stretches winning streak to 8, tops ASU

USC forward Marcus Johnson said he had never seen this small of a score in a game.

Well, he has now.

In the lowest of low-scoring battles held Saturday night at the Galen Center, the USC Trojans managed to top the Arizona State Sun Devils, 47-37, and extend their winning streak to eight games.

The Sun Devils' 37 points tied a program low; only two players scored more than four points. USC (10-5, 2-0) had two players — Marcus Johnson and Mike Gerrity — in double figures, but only two points off the bench.

Said USC coach Kevin O'Neill: "Obviously, that was not two scoring juggernauts of teams."

While the Trojan defense was the story, Arizona State (10-5, 0-2) also managed to post a respectable performance on that end, holding USC to 36 percent shooting and just five assists. The Trojans also committed 14 turnovers.

"They’re a pain to play," O'Neill said. "They’re very, very good."

Key player: Gerrity rebounded from an awful performance against Arizona to post 12 points and three assists in 37 minutes of play against the Sun Devils. He knocked down 7-of-8 free throws to help seal the game late and teamed with Marcus Simmons to shut down ASU point guard Derek Glasser on the defensive end.

O'Neill praised his point guard for bouncing back, saying the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder was bound to have off-nights considering the minutes he has been asked to play on a nightly basis.

“I’m playing him too many minutes," O'Neill said. "Let’s face it."

In return, Gerrity called O'Neill "the most demanding" defensive coach he's had in his career, but credited him for his defensive revival this year. In stints with Pepperdine and Charlotte, Gerrity had garnered a reputation as a mediocre defender. He held his own against Glasser and Arizona's Nic Wise this weekend.

Key plays: USC was down 12-10 with seven minutes to play when forward Alex Stepheson — who steered clear of foul trouble tonight — powered past ASU's Eric Boateng twice, hitting two shots to give the Trojans the 14-12 lead they would never relinquish.

In the second half, ASU closed the gap to 32-27 at one point, only to see Johnson deliver one of his trademark corner jumpers. Two possessions later, Johnson took a well-placed pass from Gerrity and converted a three-point play on an alley-oop. That put USC up 40-28 and electrified the crowd.

Key development: As goes the defense, so go the Trojans. USC is 9-1 when holding its opponent under 60 points. The last time USC allowed more than 60 points? December 5, against Georgia Tech.

It's looking like this team's defensive acumen can keep them competitive most every night.

"We're hanging our hat on that," Gerrity said. "We know it's giving us a chance to win every game."

The Sun Devils scored only eight points in the paint all game. Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic essentially made Boateng and ASU leading scorer Rihards Kuksiks non-factors down low — and wherever else they ventured.

Averaging a combined 21 points per game, the pair was held to five tonight.

"It was just hard to score on them at the rim," said Arizona State coach Herb Sendek. "Or really anywhere."

USC held the Arizona schools to a combined 87 points — no small feat considering their combined 16-10 records coming in.

"When you can hold two Pac-10 teams to 50 and 37 back-to-back, that means you’re playing hard on the defensive end," O'Neill said.