Senior point guard Jio Fontan nearly led the Trojans to a comeback victory in their second game of a 10-day Brazil trip Monday, scoring 28 points as they fell 87-81 to Sao Jose dos Campos, a first-division Brazilian pro team.
Fontan got into early foul trouble in the second quarter as USC trailed by double-digits but came back to put up a barrage of points in the third and fourth periods, as the game was played by international rules. The margin got as close as four points late in the fourth.
The game was originally intended to be a scrimmage, which would've allowed newcomers Alexis Moore, Greg Allen and Byron Wesley to take part in their first official competitions as Trojans. But USC coach Kevin O'Neill and his staff made a decision earlier Monday to play an official game, which kept the trio out until at least Tuesday, when summer-school grades are posted by the school.
"If we wouldn't have played a bad second quarter, we would've won the game," O'Neill said by phone from Sao Paulo. "We just didn't have enough juice, playing a back-to-back and playing without Byron, Alexis, and Greg.
"The team we played today was very, very good."
Other top performers for the Trojans included guard Maurice Jones, who scored 20 points, and forward Garrett Jackson, who scored 11 points and added 10 rebounds for his second-straight double-digit day on the boards. 7-footers James Blasczyk and Dewayne Dedmon again had trouble adjusting to the international style of play, combining for just 13 points and 14 rebounds. Dedmon did add four blocks.
But Fontan, the 6-foot Fordham transfer who was the Trojans' second-leading scorer last season, was USC's most dominating player for the second straight game in Brazil. On Sunday, in the exhibition opener, he had 29 points in leading the team to a nine-point victory over a second-division pro team in Sao Paulo.
"He's really stepped his game up," O'Neill said of Fontan. "He's in much better shape. He's got a little experience now, and he's played very, very well.
"He's played like you want your captain to play."
USC now has games scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in Sao Paulo and then one more in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, O'Neill said.