USC survives No. 19 Tennessee for upset
It didn't matter to Southern California coach Kevin O'Neill if his Trojans got a win at Tennessee, Kansas or anywhere in between. He was just glad to get a road win and even happier that it came against a ranked opponent.
Three days after losing at No. 3 Kansas by just two points, the Trojans got a 65-64 upset on Tuesday night at No. 19 Tennessee, the place where O'Neill coached from 1994-97.
''It was great to get the win no matter who it was,'' O'Neill said. ''There are great fans here, and they really support their team. And we won in a tough environment, which says a lot about our team.''
It was the Trojans' first road win in seven attempts, dating back to a Feb. 18 win at Washington last season.
USC had a two-point lead against the Jayhawks on Saturday, but Josh Selby hit a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left and Maurice Jones' potential game-winning shot with 6 seconds left was blocked.
Jones led the Trojans with 15 points, and this time they were able to survive a late run by Tennessee, which dropped its third straight game after beating then-No. 3 Pittsburgh and starting 7-0. It was Bruce Pearl's fourth non-conference home loss in six seasons.
Tennessee leads the series between the two teams 4-3, but USC defeated the then-No. 9 Vols 77-55 in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2009, in O'Neill's first season.
''They've got to find a way to clear their heads,'' Pearl said of his players.
Donte Smith hit a 3-pointer from the wing over the heads of three Tennessee defenders to give the Trojans (7-5) a 65-60 lead with 2:13 left. He missed another with 1:00 left.
Scotty Hopson and Melvin Goins each made a pair of free throws for the Vols, with Goins' cutting the margin to 65-64 with 47 seconds left. Tennessee (7-3) got the ball back after Jones missed a short jumper with 15 seconds left, but Cameron Tatum struggled moving the ball down the floor against USC's press and called a timeout with 3.5 seconds left to set up a play.
Tobias Harris, who led the Vols with 14 points, got a deep 3-point shot off as time expired, but it bounced away.
''(We) were hoping to get the ball to Tobias at the top of the key, but the young man guarding Tobias didn't bite on the flare, and when he stepped out he was too far from the basket to be able to have time to make some kind of play,'' Pearl said.
Alex Stepheson and Jio Fontan both had 13 points for USC, and Bryce Jones added 11.
''We're learning. We're improving. We're getting better,'' Stepheson said. ''We're getting used to each other. We're just gelling as a team right now. We're making strides each day.''
Tatum hit 12 points for the Vols, and Goins had 10.
Tennessee committed 18 turnovers, including 11 in the first half, which led to 27 points for Southern Cal. The Trojans hit 57.7 percent of their shots in the first half and 47.2 percent for the game and hit nine 3s.
''When we went to the basket, they just stripped us and ripped us way too often. Too many passes to the post players got deflected,'' Pearl said.
The Vols stayed close thanks to their second-chance points and free-throw shooting. Tennessee outrebounded USC 38-23 and had 20 second-chance points compared to the Trojans' five.
Southern California also committed 24 fouls - twice as many as Tennessee - and the Vols hit 24 of 29 shots from the free-throw line.
The Vols struggled with their half-court offense for a second game. They shot 38.3 percent against the Trojans compared to 35 percent in a loss at Charlotte on Friday, where Tatum missed a would-be winning shot at the buzzer.
''It's a little out of sync right now,'' Tatum said. ''We just have to get back together, everything back as a unit to get things flowing. We've just got to get back to understanding everybody's roles and everybody's position and getting it all back intact together.''