LOS ANGELES (AP) — Depth was a major problem for USC last season. Through two games, the bench has already shown it can be a big part of the Trojans’ identity this season.
Eric Wise scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and Ari Stewart and J.T. Terrell each scored 10 points as USC defeated Long Beach State 62-44 Tuesday night.
Stewart led a strong night for USC’s bench, which outscored Long Beach’s reserves, 23-3.
USC coach Kevin O’Neill played 12 players after he used 15 in the season opener. It’s a dynamic he didn’t have last season when injuries severely hindered the Trojans in a 6-26 campaign.
“If guys aren’t playing well you can sub `em, which is a luxury I haven’t had since I’ve been here,” O’Neill said. “I like our starting rotation right now, but we’ve got some firepower coming off the bench and good things are coming off the bench.”
Dewayne Dedmon had eight points and 10 rebounds for the Trojans, who recorded only their third 2-0 start in the past 11 years. USC won two consecutive games once last season. Its defense held Long Beach State to one field goal in the final 16 minutes.
Omar Oraby, a 7-foot-2 center who was cleared to play just before the team’s opener, had six points and five rebounds off the bench and freshman Chass Bryan had four points and four assists.
O’Neill said he doesn’t necessarily have a set starting five and will likely go with whoever is playing well. He even said he might try the 7-foot Dedmon and Oraby playing together.
“He talks about it every day like he’s going to keep subbing in and I think he’s just going to go with who’s doing good that night,” Wise said. “The next game it could be Aaron (Fuller) and I could only play, like 10 minutes, so you never know. You just have to go with it.”
Mike Caffey led the 49ers (1-1) with 17 points and James Ennis added 13. Long Beach State’s only field goal in the final 16 minutes was a layup by Ennis with 42 seconds remaining. The 49ers shot only 29 percent from the field and had 18 turnovers.
USC went on a 23-4 run after Long Beach State tied it at 35 early in the second half.
Dedmon capped the run with a tip-in of Terrell’s miss, then dunked an alley-oop pass from Byron Wesley for a 58-39 lead with fewer than minutes remaining.
Wesley scored all six of his points in the second half and Bryan filled in nicely for starting point guard Jio Fontan, who had to sit out stretches because of foul trouble.
Bryan sank a baseline jumper and then grabbed a steal and made a pull-up jumper for a 48-37 lead midway through the second half.
Long Beach State seemed to climb back into the game when Caffey fed Dan Jennings for a dunk to close the 49ers to 33-31. Ennis made a 3-pointer and Caffey’s free throw tied it at 35 before USC took the lead for good on Wise’s 3-pointer.
The 49ers went the next 15:52 without a field goal.
Long Beach State coach Dan Monson was more concerned with the first half, when his team committed 12 turnovers, including four traveling or double-dribble violations. The 49ers had 26 turnovers in their opener against North Alabama.
“The biggest problem was we quit defending and rebounding, so now we’re taking it out of the net and we’re trying to go against that defense when it’s set,” Monson said. “They’re as good as anybody in the country when they get set like that.”
Long Beach State is the Big West preseason favorite but is outsized against teams like USC. The 49ers are waiting for transfers Tony Freeland, Edgar Garibay and Keala King to be cleared by the NCAA. Backup guard Branford Jones was lost to a broken leg in their opener.
The 49ers’ tough nonconference schedule only gets more difficult with No. 11 North Carolina on Friday.
“They got great length in there,” Monson said of USC. “We’re still trying to get an identity in the paint against North Alabama, let alone against these guys. This was a good game for us in that we’ve got a long ways to go. That’s why we play these games, because now I think our guys believe me a little bit more. I think it surprised them more than it surprised me.”
Both teams came out stagnant offensively but USC pulled ahead late in the first half behind three consecutive 3-pointers by Stewart and Terrell. Terrell made it 29-20 before Jennings scored a 3-pointer to make it 29-23 at halftime.
Jennings’ basket was Long Beach’s only field goal in the final nine minutes of the first half. The 49ers committed 12 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, including four traveling or double dribble violations.
Caffey led Long Beach with 12 first-half points.
Long Beach State was seeking its first win against a Pac-12 team since it beat UCLA on Nov.29, 2009.