AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—After a tough win at Rice last weekend, Texas coach Rick Barnes brought his team back to campus and put them through two days of what he always falls back when things get a little ugly: defense.
Point made, point taken.
With the second-ranked Longhorns still trying to find all the right pieces on offense, Texas rolled to a 69-50 win over Southern California on Thursday night with a defensive effort that held the Trojans to 30 percent shooting.
“Everything starts with defense,” Texas point guard Dogus Balbay said. “Play defense, really hard, and the offense will come.”
Damion James scored 19 points for the Longhorns (6-0) and Dexter Pittman had 13 points and seven blocks, one shy of the school record.
Nikola Vucevic scored 18 points for USC, but fouled out with 5 minutes to play. The Trojans (2-3) have lost six straight away from home dating to last season.
USC coach Kevin O’Neill knew coming in the outcome was likely considering Texas’ roster depth his own team’s road struggles.
“We are what we are. We really don’t have enough right now, obviously, to come here and win,” O’Neill said. “I didn’t learn anything I didn’t know coming in here.”
Texas forced 17 turnovers and seldom let the Trojans get an open shot. The Longhorns needed that kind of defensive pressure to make up for their own 41 percent shooting and going 19 of 34 from the free-throw line. The Longhorns were just 2 of 11 on 3-point attempts.
Barnes seemed happier with the defense than any worries he had about the shooting misfires.
“We did the things that we talked about doing,” Barnes said. “Offensively, we missed some shots, but if we made some more free throws, we’d feel better about our shooting.”
James had 15 points and six rebounds in the first half as the Longhorns took a 33-27 lead.
The Trojans led 23-19 before Texas closed the first half with a 14-4 run. A steal by Avery Bradley led to a fastbreak dunk by James, who was fouled and made the free throw for a 31-25 lead.
“I opened up (the lane) myself. I made me a driving lane,” James said. “If it’s a driving lane or a jump shot, I take what the defense gives me.”
Vucevic scored 10 points in the half and USC limited Pittman to five shots. But Pittman was a force on defense, tying his previous career high with five blocks in the first half.
Pittman opened the second half with his sixth, this time on Vucevic and USC started running into foul trouble. Starting forward Marcus Johnson picked up his fourth less than 4 minutes into the second half.
Texas led by 10 when James tumbled hard and got up grimacing and holding his left elbow. He went to the bench with 15:30 left and stayed there for nearly 3 minutes.
Without him, Texas went scoreless and missed six consecutive free throws. But USC couldn’t close the gap and Texas led 44-34 when James returned.
USC cut the lead to four before James and J’Covan Brown made three free throws and Brown hit a 3-pointer with 8:05 to play, Texas’ first of the game. Brown finished with 11 points.
Texas led 60-47 when Vucevic fouled out when he leaned into Justin Mason and threw an elbow.
It was the first meeting between the Trojans and Longhorns since USC beat Texas in the second round of the 2007 NCAA tournament, former Longhorn Kevin Durant’s last college game.
Texas defended its highest ranking in school history. It reached No. 2 in the AP rankings this week, tying the mark last reached by the Longhorns in December 2005.