Running Game Diary: Trojans and Pirates in Puerto Rico

Before I begin today’s Running Game Diary, I can’t help but feel like something’s missing. And if you’re a USC fan who’s been following the news lately, you’re probably feeling the same way.
Alex Stepheson, the 6’9” forward transfer from UNC was denied a transfer waiver by the NCAA on Wednesday, preventing him from playing with the Trojans this season.

Back in July, a player with oddly similar statistics to Stepheson’s was granted a waiver when he transferred from Florida State to Georgetown. I can only speculate as to why Stepheson’s waiver was denied, as the NCAA has exercised Bill Belichick-like disclosure with any information about its decision, but I can’t help but wonder if the O.J. Mayo incident at the end of last year might have had an impact. Again, total speculation.
Okay, moving on.
4:01 – We’re live in Puerto Rico and so are a handful of people – literally, there might be a total of 100 – who are probably here because they were conned into thinking it was a soccer game.

4:03 – The coaches and commentators are donning some interesting polos. Tim Floyd isn’t wearing his typical suit jacket. Maybe there’s no air conditioning in the arena. That might explain the attendance.

4:05 – Donte Smith is in the starting lineup and he hits a three for SC’s first points of the game. The team took a red eye into San Jose early Wednesday morning, and the team has looked a bit sluggish with a few early turnovers and some lackluster defense, allowing some pirate penetration.

4:06 – I promise I’ll try to keep the Seton Hall mascot sexual innuendo to a minimum.

4:10 – Daniel Hackett accidentally tips a shot into his own basket as he tries to deflect an alley-oop pass. Oops.

4:12 – Leonard Washington drops in a floater in the lane to tie the game at 10 before the first media timeout. Washington has been very impressive in his first three games. He hasn’t put up huge numbers, but he just seems more energetic and comfortable out on the court. DeMar DeRozan has shown flashes of excellence, but of those two freshman, he seems more hesitant.

4:15 – Coming back from the break, the announcers read an ad for Puerto Rico stating “No passport required from the United States.” Is that really the best tagline they could come up with?

4:16 – A Seton Hall bounce pass goes from the elbow of one side of the paint and through a couple SC defenders to the opposite block without being touched. The Trojans are looking a little tired.

4:20 – A DeRozan turnover leads to an inside lay-up for Seton Hall. He’s had a tough time gripping the ball early. Probably just sweat from the Puerto Rico heat. We’re tied at 13 at the 11:55 mark.

4:23 – Every time I see the Dr. J “Dr. Pepper” commercial, I wonder how quickly the money in his bank account is disappearing.

4:25 – Taj Gibson comes out of the break with a nice spin move for a lay-up, a jumper just inside the free-throw line and an offensive rebound and a put-back. Brooklyn in da houuuuuuuse! My friend Berf, a student at the University of Kansas and avid college hoops fan puts it nicely – “Gibson is getting his Tyler Hansbrough on!” Don’t worry, Gibson’s not hurt, just playing like Psycho T(aj).

4:28 – SC is moving the ball well against the Pirates’ zone and Marcus Simmons hits a baseline jumper on a skip pass from Hackett.

4:31 – On back-to-back possessions, Smith dribbles within 10 feet of Hackett and throws a bullet pass off of Hackett’s shin. That kind of force isn’t necessary at that distance, dude. He redeems himself by hitting a three on the next trip down, pushing the SC lead to 24-17 and forcing a Seton Hall timeout.

4:35 – Hackett goes to the line with 7:42 left to shoot a one-and-one, as the Pirates are over the foul limit. Getting the Pirates in foul trouble will be key for the Trojans as Seton Hall has only seven scholarship players in the game.

4:38 – Donte Smith is doin’ his thing – he hits another three and extends the lead to double digits – 29-18.

4:40 – Gibson hits a 15 footer on one end and continues his block party at the other end.

4:44 – Joe Theodore hits a three to cut the Trojan lead to 31-27. The Trojans are starting to exploit the short Seton Hall bench in other ways by running the floor and tiring out the pirates. Hackett finds Dwight Lewis for a fast break lay-up and the lead is back up to eight – 35-27.

4:49 – Gibson blocks yet another shot, grabs the rebound, crosses over a Pirate defender and outlets the ball to Washington who goes in for a lay-up. Forget Hansbrough, Gibson’s doing his LeBron James impression.

4:51 – One announcer’s explanation of Stephenson’s rejected transfer waiver was that the NCAA “doesn’t want teams recruiting for other teams.” Huh? If that even made sense, why would anybody logically want to?

4:53 – The Trojans penetrate the pirate’s D for a lay-up. Someone get Johnny Depp on the phone to reprise his role as Captain Jack in “Trojans Penetrating Pirates,” coming to an adult theater near you.

No, Johnny Depp wasn’t at the game. Sorry, ladies.

4:54 – Washington picks up a charge on the other end. “He’s an energy guy” says Hubert Davis. Well the team’s energy has certainly picked up from the start and the Trojans lead at halftime, 43-28.

4:49 – A 12-1 run by SC to close the half gives the team some breathing room. LeBro – er – Gibson has 12 points, five boards, three dimes and two blocks at the break. Did I mention he hasn’t missed as shot from the floor or the free throw line?

5:04 – An ESPNU graphic shows that top-prospect Noel Johnson to a letter of intent to go to SC. Nothing would make me happier if the basketball team could match the football team as the school’s main sports interest. Floyd’s recruiting and the team’s success is certainly moving it in the right direction.

5:06 – Halftime highlights show Memphis beat Chattanooga by just 12 points, 83-71. Chattanooga was blown out by 25-plus points to far inferior opponents in its first two games.

5:09 – ESPNU shows about 30 seconds of just black screen. Must be technical problems. It’s okay, though, ‘cuz they’re the college channel right? They haven’t quite made it to the professional level, I guess.

5:12 – Hackett channels his inner soccer player by deflecting a Seton Hall pass off his foot. The crowd goes wild! Now that’s what they came here to see!

5:13 – They’re just as quickly subdued as the teams return to playing basketball. Que lastima!

5:15 – The ball is bouncing around like it’s in a pinball machine with sloppy play on both ends. Seton Hall starts the half with a couple threes that fuel a 10-0 run. Gibson draws the fourth foul on Gause and hits the second of two free throws to stop the run.

5:22 – A Phillips 66 commercial uses the same soundtrack as the Enzyte ad (the ones with Bob and his ED problem). A guy tries to put the pump in his car, but it won’t let him until he goes to get gas at a Phillips. Phillips 66: your cars like our pumps inside them.

5:26 – The Trojans are still struggling on the offensive end. DeRozan has a nice drive, but the ball spins out on a lay-up and he’s called for a reach-in foul on the rebound. Maybe he just needs something to light a fire under him to get him going.

5:29 – Hubie Davis keenly observes that the Trojans haven’t gone much to Gibson this half. With the lead cut to 48-44, I can only hope someone on the team was listening.

5:31 – Keith Wilkinson misses two free throws and Gibson rebounds the second miss and puts it back for a dunk. He must have heard Hubie. A media timeout at 11:44 will hopefully get the offense back in gear. SC leads 50-44.

5:36 – Momentum has completely swung Seton Hall’s way. The sad excuse for a crowd is clearly on the underdog’s side. SC’s lead has been cut to just three 52-49. In more than 10 minutes of play, the Trojans have mustered just nine points this half. Ugh.

5:39 – Hackett drives and dishes to Washington who sinks one of two free throws. Still no Gibson action. Hazell hangs in the air throws a fastball off the backboard and it somehow goes in. Seton Hall puts on full-court pressure and creates a turnover. Eugene Harvey draws a foul and will go to the line with a chance to take the lead with the game tied at 53.

5:43 – If you can show me someone who thinks the Geico commercials are funny, I’ll show you a UCLA fan.

5:44 – Seton Hall seems to be grabbing every offensive rebound. SC just looks tired out there.

5:47 – Wilkinson throws the ball to the press bench from the top of the key. Just wow. Again, maybe that Puerto Rico heat is getting to the players.

5:49 – Mike Davis can’t give the Pirates the lead, as he misses the second free throw. After a 15 point Trojan lead at halftime, it’s just incredible that this game is tied with a little more than 4 minutes to go.

5:50 – Our savior! Gibson gets a put-back, but Seton Hall responds after grabbing another offensive rebound and Mike Davis drops in a short baseline one-hander. 57-all with 3:24 left.

5:54 – A broken inbounds play gets knocked to Wilkinson who knocks down a midrange jumper to give SC a two-point lead. Whatever works, I suppose.

5:56 – It doesn’t last long as Jeremy Hazell throws down a huge put-back dunk, while Hackett can only stand and watch in shock. The Trojans get nothing at the other end and Hazell comes back with a three. Seton Hall is poised for the upset as they have the ball with 50 seconds and a three-point lead. The Pirates get an offensive rebound off a Harvey miss, but can’t capitalize.

5:58 – The Trojans are taking the ball out of bounds with 14.9 seconds remaining after a timeout. Hackett’s three rims out, but Guess Who is there for the tip-in with 5.8 left. Not a bad look by Hackett, but too much time might have run off the clock. The Trojans foul Harvey and will have one last chance for a win or a tie, depending on whether Harvey can hit a couple free throws.

6:02 – Harvey misses the second free throw and SC has 4.1 seconds to try and go the entire length of the court and tie the game up. There hasn’t been a football game all year that’s got my heart pumping like this. I seriously don’t understand why basketball isn’t more popular here. Maybe it’s because all the football fans are used to the team only losing once a year. Losses are a bit more common in other sports, unfortunately.

6:04 – The inbound goes to Hackett, who dribbles down the sideline and pulls up for a three right in front of the SC bench, but he misses everything and Gibson’s put-back is too late. The Pirates pull off the upset and beat the Trojans 63-61. Well, if those pirates in Somalia don’t get the $25 million they’re asking for in the ransom of an oil tanker, at least these Pirates were able to steal a win.
The Trojans scored 18 points in the final 20 minutes of play, as they struggled to find any sort of offensive or defensive rhythm in the second half. So maybe it was less of a steal by the Pirates, and more of a donation to charity by the Trojans. Either way, it’s the first “L” of the season.

Does anyone know of an appeals process that Stepheson can do to get another shot at his transfer waiver?

The Running Diary will return Sunday for USC’s third and final game in the tournament. Let’s just say I’m too depressed to write another one tomorrow. As always, Fight On!

Kyle Bunch

Partnerships for R/GA Ventures. Raised in California, adopted by Texas. Opinions expressed here are mine and they are fantastic.

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