LOS ANGELES (AP)—With their bags already packed for Puerto Rico, the Southern California Trojans had one important task remaining—beat New Mexico State.
They got it done.
Taj Gibson tied his career high with 22 points, had 10 rebounds and five of his team’s 10 blocked shots as No. 19 USC won 73-60 on Tuesday night for its first 2-0 start in eight years.
“We just flowed into the offense,” he said. “Guys found me and I was able to finish my baskets. My whole goal was to encourage guys. The whole thing is getting them better for the later part of the season.”
Dwight Lewis added 16 points and Daniel Hackett, who fouled out with 2:38 remaining, had 10 for the Trojans, who won their season opener for the first time in four years last weekend. They opened the 2000-01 season with an 8-0 record.
DeMar DeRozan, USC’s highly touted freshman making his second start, finished with seven points after scoring 14 in his college debut.
“You’re going to have bad games, but you can’t focus on it,” he said. “I was focused on coming out on one of their best scorers. My shot wasn’t falling, but I didn’t dwell on it.”
The Trojans headed out after the game to the Puerto Rico Tip-off, where they will play Seton Hall on Thursday. Gibson won’t join his teammates until that morning after attending classes on Wednesday.
“We’re looking forward to going to Puerto Rico and seeing how better we can be,” he said.
Jahmar Young had 16 points and seven rebounds, Troy Gillenwater added 15 points and Jonathan Gibson had 11 for the Aggies (1-1), who got within five points with 11:23 remaining before USC closed strongly to win.
“USC has great size and physical strength,” said New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, an assistant to former USC coach Henry Bibby. “I was really impressed with their athleticism. Their guys can really get up and down the floor. That is why they all can play at the high-major level.”
Trailing 46-33, the Aggies outscored the Trojans 13-5 to close to 51-46. Gibson scored five points and Young added four, while defensively the Aggies were more aggressive.
“We really got after it on the defensive end,” Menzies said. “We did a really good job with ball pressure, but not as good of a job off the ball. Our defense will make things happen on the road.”
But Gibson and Lewis, a couple of juniors, took over in a 16-10 spurt that put the game away. Gibson got things started with consecutive baskets en route to scoring eight points and Lewis had four to keep the Trojans ahead 67-56 with 3:43 remaining.
“Coach (Tim Floyd) didn’t want us to overlook this team,” Gibson said. “We got to learn how to play with a lead and try not to turn the ball over too much.”
The Aggies were forced to foul down the stretch, and the Trojans responded by going 6-of-8 from the line.
USC dominated the boards 42-28, with Keith Wilkinson grabbing eight and freshman Leonard Washington seven. But the Trojans were sloppy with 20 turnovers, including six by Hackett and five by DeRozan.
The Trojans led by 17 points in the first half, outscoring the Aggies 31-14 to start the game. The spurt featured two 6-0 scoring bursts and an 11-0 run.