USC went from good to bad -- fast.
After a solid start to the season with with wins over UC Irvine and Santa Clara, the Trojans (2-1) regressed Wednesday, suffering a blowout loss, 77-57, to visiting Rider in the first game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at the Galen Center. Broncs guard Justin Robinson had a phenomenal game, shooting 9-of-10 from the field to score 28 points, and USC never got closer than a 12-point deficit in the second half.
The Trojans turned the ball over 13 times, shot 38 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free-throw line and allowed Rider to shoot 60 percent from the field.
"It seems like nothing went right today," senior forward Alex Stepheson said. "Defense wasn't getting stops and the offense was taking bad shots and making turnovers.
"It was just a terrible game for us."
For the Trojans, Stepheson had nine points and six rebounds in his second game since breaking a bone in his hand in the season opener. Reserve guard Donte Smith had a career-high 13 points and freshman point guard Maurice Jones added 13 as well to lead the team, but neither Jones (29 points Monday) nor junior Nikola Vucevic (22 points Monday, nine Wednesday) came close to the numbers they put up earlier in the week.
Vucevic also had a tough time defending Rider sub Novar Gadson, who had 10 points in 13 minutes as an outside shooter and frequently caught him on his heels. As a team, USC couldn't do much defensively. Coach Kevin O'Neill called it the worst defensive game the Trojans had played in his one-plus seasons at USC.
"Our defense was horrible," Smith said. "Just horrible."
Energy was also lacking. Smith said he noticed from the time USC started its pregame warmups that the squad was flat. The Trojans never led, tying it once at 21-21 on a 3-pointer from Smith, but Rider pushed back to open up a nine-point lead at halftime.
"We looked like we were in chill-out mode," O'Neill said. "We can't be in chill-out mode against anybody."
Player of the game: Robinson was on fire from start to finish, hitting the first shot of the game for either a team -- a 3-pointer -- and ending the game converting his final seven field-goal attempts.
USC had the 5-foot-7 Jones on him to start the game but used a few different defenders throughout the game.
Stat of the game: Rider shot 12-for-19 from 3-point range, a remarkable number that actually was a higher percentage (63.2 percent) than the 60 percent they shot from the field.
O'Neill expressed frustration after the game, saying that he and his staff had emphasized the need to shut down the three.
"No matter how much you talk about those things, it didn't translate," he said.
Quote of the game: "We didn't play together. We split apart when things got tough."
An off game at this point in the season is not really cause for concern, but that comment from O'Neill is.
The coach was upset, of course. Still, attributing an early-season loss to a lack of togetherness is not a good sign, especially with a depth-challenged team that will need to rely on camaraderie.
Play was sloppy, especially from freshmen Mo Jones and Bryce Jones, who combined for 18 points and seven turnovers in 69 minutes.
Notes: The 77 points USC gave up were the second-most the Trojans have given up in the last two seasons. Georgia Tech scored 79 in a 26-point win last December. ... USC's next game is Saturday against Bradley in Springfield, Mass. -- the next leg of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. ... Stepheson wore a smaller, lighter-weight cast on his broken left hand Wednesday than the bulky one he was wearing Monday. He said it made a difference with catching and holding the ball.
O'Neill spoke to the media after the game but didn't stick around long. See what he had to say about
Stepheson talked after the game about his injured hand, the team's lack of intensity and other topics. See what he had to say: