- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- Memphis coach John Calipari shuddered.
That's how ugly his 62-58 overtime win against USC was Tuesday night. And Calipari knew it, using the word "muck" to describe what the No. 2 Tigers (7-0) got themselves into at Madison Square Garden.
"I just turned and said this is very painful to sit here and be in this," he said. "It's painful."
It was supposed to be an overdose of some of the greatest young talent in the country.
Freshmen O.J. Mayo, Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley are stars on three different teams brought together by the Jimmy V Classic in the basketball mecca, with Mayo and Rose, who played against each other in what might have been the greatest game in AAU history, facing each other again in the nightcap. It seemed as though Eric Gordon was the only one left off the all-star invitation list. But each member of Tuesday's trio was held under his scoring average. None of them took over the game. And only one of them (Rose) wound up winning.
Instead, they played like, well, freshmen -- looking fantastic and promising in spurts but then sloppy in spans. While the basketball nation has become familiar with their prodigious skills, Tuesday's game revealed their paths to the NBA are prone to begin with some inconsistency.
"Maturity, decision-making, flow of the game, when to go and when to stop they both did the same kind of things out there," Calipari said. "O.J. took a couple of shots that were critical shots that he didn't need to take at that time, and Derrick did the same thing.
"He drove in on a couple of them, I'm like, 'Why'd you do that?'
'I was trying to score.'
'Oh, OK, but there's five guys out there guarding you.'
"That's freshman stuff," Calipari said. "I think Tim [Floyd] is happy with his freshmen, and I'm happy with mine."
As well they should be.
Rose came into the game averaging 17 points; he finished with nine. Beasley was leading the nation with 26.7 points. He finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds -- still an impressive effort. And Mayo was averaging 21.0 points; he had 16 in 41 minutes.
"I'm not perfect," Mayo said, "but I try to be perfect."
What contributed to Rose's uncharacteristic performance was the implementation of the triangle-and-two defense by USC (unranked ESPN/USA Today; No. 24 AP). Around 7:15 p.m., coach Tim Floyd walked his players through it in the hotel ballroom. The only other time they had used it was for about four minutes against Southern Illinois last week in the Anaheim Classic.
The defense prevented Rose from getting open looks and into any flow. Memphis was able to actually run its offense only four or five times all night. The Tigers shot 37.3 percent from the field, and made 5 of 22 3-pointers.
USC was even worse, shooting 28.8 percent from the field.
"They're young players," Floyd said of Mayo and Rose. "I coached young players in the NBA and they made mistakes, too. They're both going to have great careers in the NBA, but they're seeing a multitude of things they haven't seen at the high school level, from different defenses and teams loading up on them and game-planning to take away who they are."
It's who they were, though, that made the Mayo versus Rose subplot to the second game of the night more interesting.
"I don't know if O.J. was into it, but Derrick wasn't into that," Memphis senior forward Joey Dorsey said. "Derrick was just playing his game tonight and that helped us win with him not just playing against O.J., trying to get into O.J. and going at him. That helped us out a lot. It wasn't just them tonight, it was a victory for the team."
Beasley, although his Kansas State team lost 68-59 to Notre Dame in the first game, had the most productive night of the trio. The Washington, D.C., native was so excited for his friends and family to see him in the Garden he got a little hint of asthma, and for the first time this season needed to go to the sideline for a few puffs from an inhaler.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said he spoke to Beasley after the game and reminded the freshman that he saw him at a camp in Landover, Md., about five years ago. The camp director pointed out the 12-year-olds to Brey. There, Beasley was playing against Kevin Durant.
"I didn't get either one of them," Brey said with a smile. "He is a special talent. He's young right now and learning how to play college basketball -- a very naturally gifted young man."
Beasley has been prohibited by Kansas State from speaking to the media until mid-December, but the one question all of these players eventually will have to answer is whether or not they're coming back for a sophomore season. It's not something K-State coach Frank Martin seems particularly concerned about.
"He's come in and he's going to help us succeed this year, and if the time is right for him and the opportunity is right, I'm going to be the one to tell him to go," Martin said. "It's his dream. Any person who has the opportunity to make that kind of money in their lifetime, they gotta go."
Regardless of how long he stays, Mayo has said he came to USC because he wanted to be the one to put his stamp on a program. It appears to be working.
"We needed him to help us kick-start the program at a national level and be able to create awareness to all the high-profile athletes that it's OK to come to USC," said USC assistant coach Bob Cantu, who is in his seventh year with the program. "If O.J. came from across the country, why can't the next one come?"
Apparently Mayo's goal is working.
The Trojans have landed Demar DeRozan, ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the class of 2008 by Scouts Inc.
It's the same kind of hype Rose craved -- and now has.
"If you want all the hype, you gotta go out there and just play hard," he said. "I played decent. I can always do better, but we came out with a victory so I'm happy."
Heather Dinich is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at email@example.com.