Trojans Advance to Round of 32 with 72-56 Victory
It was a tale of two halves Saturday afternoon, as USC defeated a determined Drake team 72-56 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Despite scoring 40 first half points, USC went into the half with just a 3 point lead over the Bulldogs.
Drake Sophomore Guard Joseph Yesufu was magnificent in the first half and single-handedly kept Drake in the game. Yesufu had 18 first half points and was 4-6 from deep. USC deployed a variety of defensive schemes against Yesufu, but the explosive guard was able to find looks and converted at a high rate. Even with Yesufu torching the Trojans, USC was able to utilize their size advantage to get good looks from short range.
USC and Drake went toe-to-toe for the majority of the first half, with no team ever expanding beyond a 5 point lead. The Men of Troy were led by (who else) Evan Mobley who had 13 first half points, and Drew Peterson who added 6 of his own. Nine Trojans scored in the first half with the majority of points coming from the paint.
The second half yielded very different results for both teams. Coach Enfield has taken some criticism in the past for a lack of meaningful halftime adjustments, but there was a clear message delivered at halftime in today's game, and the Trojans delivered. Drake was held to just 19 second half points on 7-38 shooting, a crippling 19%. Yesufu made a 3 in the early goings of the half, and only added 5 additional points in the remaining 19 minutes. USC kept multiple pairs of eyes on Yesufu for the entire second half, with Tahj Eaddy face-guarding to ensure that every single move was difficult for the Bulldog's leading scorer. With Yesufu neutralized, the other Bulldogs were not able to pick up the slack, as no other Drake player contributed more than 6 points for the game.
On the offensive side of the court, USC was led by the brothers Mobley. Evan led the way with 17 points and was followed by Isaiah with 15 of his own. Isaiah was an uber-efficient 6-7 from the field (and...made both of his FT attempts). Drake had no answer for Drew Peterson's size as he was able to zig and zag his way to close range shots seemingly at will. The 6'8" Wing added 14 points and made his lone three point attempt. USC moves to 20-0 in games where three or more players reach double figures.
Tahj Eaddy was a true point guard today, notching a season high 10 assists. Eaddy consistently found open Trojans, and only had one turnover. USC finished the game with a 20 assists and only 9 turnovers.
Bench players Chevez Goodwin and Max Agbonkpolo made meaningful contributions, not as much in the stat columns, but in terms of pure energy. Agbonkpolo, in particular, played aggressive but controlled defense and was consistently in the right place to make the right play. He is a tremendous weapon for Coach Enfield to deploy due to his unique combination of size and speed.
With the win, USC will advance to the round of 32, where they will meet the #3 seeded Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas was able to escape a tough game from Eastern Washington earlier today, thanks in large part to a second half 3-point barrage. Do not let Kansas' record (21-8) fool you for one moment, this team is as capable as any in America, validated by a 71-58 victory over then undefeated Baylor just a few weeks ago.
We will have a full preview available tomorrow, as we continue watching the other games within the West region.
A few more notes, with victories from Colorado, USC, Oregon State, UCLA and Oregon (via VCU forfeit) the Pac-12 remains undefeated. UCLA will have its hands full tonight against #6 seed BYU but I expect Mick Cronin to have his team ready. The Big 10 has faltered in the early parts of this tournament, and the Pac may be gaining a bit more respect, all good things for the Conference of Champions.
Survive and Advance!