J.T. Terrell had three points at halftime Thursday.

He wasn't bothered. Jio Fontan, his USC backcourt-mate, had 13.

"I said, 'Jio, keep going,'" the junior said. "'I'm playing for you.'

"I don't come into games hoping I score 20 points. It's somebody's night every game."

Terrell says that now, with the confidence of playing time and a return to the scoring prowess that made him a prized transfer after averaging 11.1 points per game as a Wake Forest freshman in 2010-11.

He has emerged from his banishment to Kevin O'Neill's doghouse, punishment for bad shot selection and even worse defense, to become a major weapon for the Trojans heading into tonight's game at McKale Center against No. 6 Arizona.

"He's a lot more confident right now," center Dewayne Dedmon said. "He's a shooter. When his confidence is good, it's good."

Terrell's fall from grace earlier this season was swift and severe.

Through USC's first eight games, he led the team in scoring, with 12.5 points per game and was tied for second with 29.5 minutes per contest.

In the team's next seven games, culminating with a benching in a Jan. 5 loss to Cal, Terrell's playing time was more than cut in half. He averaged only 12.5 minutes.

When he played, it wasn't well.

He made only 8 of 40 shots, averaging 3.3 points during the seven-game stretch.

It wasn't until Fontan tried to play injured against Colorado two weeks ago that Terrell returned to relevance, scoring 11 points in 19 minutes.

That earned him a start two days later at Utah, and he responded by scoring a team-high 14 points in 31 minutes.

Two days later, O'Neill was fired.

On his first day as the interim coach, Bob Cantu told the 6-foot-3-inch North Carolina native the Trojans needed his scoring, but that he had to take good shots and play defense.

"When I took the job over as an interim coach, my philosophy was, 'OK, I'm going to let guys play through mistakes,'" Cantu said Friday. "But if you're gonna continue to make mistakes, we're not gonna have it.'"

Terrell has responded, averaging 17.7 points - including 20 in Tempe in an overtime loss to ASU on Thursday - and 34.7 minutes per game in Cantu's three games as the boss.

"He's been phenomenal on offense," Cantu said. "He's been loose. He's taken good shots."

That word comes up a lot about Terrell these days.

"It's probably, just, he's thinking a little looser, not remembering the last shot as much," Fontan said. "Moving on from one play to the next."

Terrell used the word, too.

"Play loose," he said, "and know if I make a mistake I don't need to worry about looking to the sideline."

With the fiery O'Neill no longer on the bench, the Trojans are scoring - but also allowing - more points. Under O'Neill, USC averaged 67.8 points and gave up 66.5.

In three games under Cantu - a small sample size, but indicative of changes in pacing - USC has averaged 78.7 points but has allowed 80.7.

"It's a lot more free-flowing," Dedmon said. "You have a lot more freedom to play.

"It's a different coaching style. (O'Neill) was more defensive-minded than Cantu."

Not that the new coach will stand for Terrell's defensive shortcomings.

"He's gotta tighten up his defense, which we've talked about," Cantu said. "He understands that.

"It's a two-way street. He's most likely going to have to defend the primary scorer on the other team."

Terrell is happy to have the chance. He's having more fun now.

"I like Cantu as a coach," he said. "Pretty much, I'm guessing it's showing right now."

Back in the game

In USC's first seven games, J.T. Terrell averaged 30.4 minutes per game and 12.7 points per game. He didn't hit those averages in a game after that for more than a month. In his last four games, though, he has found the groove:

33.8 mpg

Terrell hasn't played fewer than 31 minutes in a game since Jan. 12

16.8 ppg

Terrell has a pair of 20-point games in his last four and has made 13 of 33 three-point attempts during that stretch