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January 16, 2009DeMar DeRozan finished with a career-high 22 points, Dwight Lewis added 18, and Taj Gibson added 11 points with as many rebounds to lift the Trojans to victory. They were the only three Trojans in double figures as it was a slow offensive night, but they got the job done, beating ASU 61-49.
USC opened with somewhat of a different starting lineup including Keith Wilkinson and seldom used reserve Donte Smith.
The unusual lineup may have been responsible for the slow start, but early on they seemed to struggle offensively taking contested jump shots from the outside.
"The only reason why we struggled with the zone was because we couldn't make shot," said Tim Floyd. "The best way to break a zone is to knock down open shots, and I knew we would shoot so poorly for the whole game."
DeRozan was the first to post in the scoring column for the Trojans with a jumper under duress. The 3-2 zone the Sun Devils opened the game in prevented many inside looks and penetration, thus the Trojans were limited to long jump shots.
The Trojans also opened the game very sloppy with turnovers on five of their first six possessions. However, the game was sloppy on both sides as Arizona State forced the ball inside to Jeff Pendergraph who had a couple turnovers of his own.
Neither team opened the game particularly hot, they combined to score a total of 14 points in seven minutes of play.
The frigid conditions were largely due to the number of turnovers both teams had in the early going, but even when they managed to get a shot off they were not falling.
Both teams combined for 12 turnovers in the first 10 minutes of play and the Trojans shot a dismal 29 percent from the field in the first half.
"To tell you the truth our defense was so good we didn't need to shoot that well," said Floyd. "But in the end I'm glad the shots started to fall for us."
Dwight Lewis broke a six minute scoring drought for USC with a three from the corner, and this seemed to get the ball rolling for the Trojans. On the following possession Gibson recorded his first points and just like that the Trojans doubled their production in less than a minute.
Lewis proved to be the early spark they needed hitting another three shortly after and urging his teammates to break whatever slump they were in with an emphatic yell on the other end of the floor.
"I hadn't been shooting well in the past few games," said Lewis. "But I found my stroke at the right time tonight and I was glad I could come through for my team."
Just as Lewis was a spark for the Trojans, Rihard Kuksiks made three straight bombs from long range pushing the Sun Devil lead to 10 with four minutes to go. It seemed as if the Trojans could not find Kuksiks on the floor as all of his attempts were wide open.
With all of the attention Arizona State's star guard James Harden requires, Kuksiks was simply overlooked. Harden's defender face guarded him for the entire first half, and the remaining four Trojans were often caught watching.
The momentum had clearly shifted to the Sun Devils, but a dunk from Gibson as the remaining seconds ticked off the clock sent the Trojans into the locker room with some energy.
Kuksiks slid under the radar for another easy bucket and the first score of the second half. Similar to the first half, Lewis answered with quick points of his own. He finished with a team-high 16 points.
The Trojans went on a 9-3 run to open the half and reminiscent of games passed, they got things going in the open floor off of two careless ASU turnovers.
ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek was forced to take a timeout to stop the Trojan run. However, Lewis came out of the timeout and hit a three-pointer to give the Trojans the lead for the first time at the 17 minute mark.
Neither team was in a rhythmic flow offensively, but both seemed to muster just enough productivity to match the opposition. The game remained close with numerous ties, but the Sun Devils managed to maintain a slight edge.
The Trojans did a terrific job in limiting Harden and making other Sun Devils contribute offensively. Hackett, Lewis and Simmons all turned in strong efforts defensively.
"Harden is a very good player and it was important for me to not let him get comfortable tonight," said Hackett. "I didn't let him go anywhere on the floor without me right on his hip, even when the ball wasn't in play."
The Sun Devils are 21-5 over the last two years when Harden scores 20 or more, and all the attention the Trojans was paying off. Harden made his first points of the evening at the free throw line with 7:43 remaining in the game.
After the Harden free throws, the Trojans went on a 6-0 run off of inspiring play from DeRozan and a timely three from Keith Wilkinson. DeRozan has come on in key moments in recent games and is beginning to prove his highly-touted reputation.
"I'm getting better every game," said DeRozan. "I'm paying more attention to the little things and relying on my instincts."
The Trojan onslaught continued as DeRozan left a no-look handoff in Gibson's hands for a two-handed dunk followed by a three DeRozan off of penetration from Daniel Hackett.
The lead was up to double digits with three minutes left in the game and the Trojans showed no signs of stopping. All of the pent up offensive frustration was erupting and DeRozan served as the catalyst for the reaction.
The late surge was enough to propel the Trojans to a much needed victory, as it was their first victory over a ranked opponent this season.