The USC basketball team began their season with a completely new team and coach, something many couldn't imagine when the Trojans last walked off the court in March. None of it mattered though, as the Kevin O'Neill-era began with USC beating UC Riverside 77-67 Tuesday night.
Despite playing only seven players, the Trojans managed to make it through the game unscathed but tired as they controlled the game from the opening tip. Dwight Lewis scored 22 points to lead the Trojans as they featured a balanced attack that saw three others reach double digits.
"I thought our guys gave a good effort tonight," O'Neill said. "We're obviously playing with limited numbers so for our guys to do what they did tonight was especially impressive.
"I'm more than happy with any win, anytime, anywhere."
Konner Veteto scored 14 points for the Highlanders as they attempted beat USC for the first time. Any hopes Riverside had of pulling an upset like Cal State Fullerton did over USC's Pac-10 rival UCLA the previous night were quickly extinguished after the Trojans scored the first seven points of the game and never let their lead shrink below five. Former Trojan Kyle Austin chipped in eight points and six rebounds against his former team as well.
Donte Smith played all forty minutes at point guard and had 12 points and two assists. Marcus Simmons, who was last year's defensive stopper, scored a career high 18 points. Freshman Evan Smith was not expected to be able to play due to an injury but came off the bench to play 33 minutes.
"The effort by everybody on our team was great," Lewis said. "Everybody really stepped up, I was proud of everybody. Like I've been saying since the beginning of the year, we have a lot of good players and that when they step up people will find out about them and they found out tonight."
Lewis suffered cramps throughout the second half that limited his effectiveness and was one of several players who will have to rest up quickly. O'Neill did not expect any of the injured Trojans to be back for the next game against Loyola Marymount on Saturday, so the same seven are likely to play similar minutes.
For O'Neill and the Trojans however, the first one is in the books and over with. Although it may sound cliché, taking it one game at a time is all this team is going to do.
Lewis said he might have drunk too much water before game time to cause his cramps and will receive an IV to help him recover.
Nikola Vucevic scored 18 points and eight rebounds and looked more comfortable than last season, finishing strong around the rim several times. Freshman 7-footer Davis Rozitis played eight minutes in his first action as a Trojan though O'Neill said they "survived" when he was on the floor after he picked up two fouls.
The Trojans will have Wednesday off before practicing again on Thursday. Their next game will be at the Galen Center against Loyola Marymount Saturday at 5pm.