USC improved to 2-0 on the season after defeating Temple 76-71 in Philadelphia Saturday night. It was a tale of two halves as USC looked dominate for the first half, and collapsed in the second, clinging to the 5 point win.
After a sluggish start to the game, the Trojans found their rhythm about half way through the first half, and took a commanding 46-27 lead into the half.
The Trojan offense turned to some new faces in the first half, as perennial scorers Isaiah Mobley and Boogie Ellis were held to just 6 combined first half points. Our pre-game report touched on some of the advantages that USC would inside based purely on size, and Coach Enfield agreed. Chevez Goodwin and Isaiah White both scored 9 points in the first half, and Drew Peterson chipped in 8 of his own. The three scoring leaders were efficient shooting 10-15 from the field, many of which were high percentage inside looks.
It was reassuring to see someone other than Mobley and Ellis carry the load, as the two will undoubtedly receive the most attention from opposing defenses. Games like this show future opponents that all five Trojans need to be guarded and accounted for. The first half stat lines were down right impressive. To go along with the points, Goodwin added 6 first half boards, White had 5 of his own, and Peterson grabbed 4 more to go with his 4 assists.
USC took their first lead of the game with 10:58 left in the first half at 15-14. Temple tied the game on their next possession with a Free Throw, which was followed by an Ethan Anderson three to take a 18-15 lead. Once the Trojans secured the lead with 10:02 left in the first half, they did not relinquish it for the duration of the game, promptly going on a 16-2 run, to help establish the 19 point halftime lead.
The Trojans got the job done on the defensive end as well, holding Temple to just 31% from the field and just 1-10 from deep. Once again, the USC defense contested nearly every shot, and was tough inside. As we have seen in past years, especially early in the season, the Trojans are susceptible to offensive rebounds. Without an Evan Mobley or Onyeka Okongwu type inside to secure anything off the rim, USC will need to tighten this up as they move into the tougher games. Second and certainly third chance opportunities need to be eliminated. In total, USC gave up 16 offensive rebounds, which largely contributed to the second half Temple rally.
The Trojans extended their lead to 23 points in the early minutes of the second half, and the game seemed well in command, until it wasn't. The ball started to stick on offense, followed by a steady supply of ill-advised jump shots and isolation hero ball. In fact, USC went nearly 8 minutes without a field goal in the second half, during which time the lead was cut from 23 all the way down to 4. Cold streaks will inevitably happen, and they can become contagious. When a team sees a large lead shrivel down, even the most experienced players can tighten up as the embarrassment and fear of blowing a big lead settle in.
I have seen USC lose a game like this a bunch of times, and I am thankful that the team was able to lean on Isaiah and Ethan to secure the win. Credit must be given to Temple as well, who, as expected, played a very hard (and physical) game and gave the Trojans all they could handle down the stretch. Temple Guard Khalif Battle was as good as advertised and caught fire in the second half, the Sophomore gunner finished with a game high 26 points, and converted 5-9 from beyond the arc.
In the end, USC needed two free throws from Drew Peterson to secure the win. The bugaboo that is Trojan free throw shooting once again reared its ugly head. USC converted just 18-27 from the line, these are not the percentages of a Final Four team, and it needs to improve. Ideally, the Trojans would be somewhere in the high 70s or low 80s. I would settle for 2 players in the upper 80s who we can give the ball to late in games and trust to knock down the front end of a late game 1 and 1.
That being said, a win is a win is a win, and the AP voters agree, having included the Trojans in this week's poll at #25.
We suspected that Coach Enfield would switch things up in the starting lineup, and we were correct. Isaiah White was given the nod against the larger Temple Guards, and he responded very well, finishing with 12 points, 7 boards and a pair of assists. Goodwin was the MVP of the game for the Trojans ending with 19 points and 8 boards. Expect Andy to continue mixing and matching as he is armed with tremendous depth and differing sizes and skillsets.
With the game still in the balance down the stretch, Andy did not have an opportunity to dig deep into his bench in game 2. Joshua Morgan played meaningful minutes in the first half with Mobley on the bench with foul trouble, as did Agbonkpolo and EA. EA made a pair of huge threes and was in the game at the end. This was not Max's best game as he launched some very contested and very uncalled for jump shots. Dixon-Waters and Kobe Johnson saw the Court, but made no major contributions in this game. If this game is any indication, Andy will run 8/9 men deep (Boubacar was out for this game) with the potential for the freshman to push for more run time as the season progresses.
Before the focus shifts to Andy's return to FGCU, the school where he first made a name for himself, a congratulations is in order for the 9th year head coach. With his 41 wins at Florida Gulf Coast and 159 as the leader of the Trojans, Andy has now won 200 games in his coaching career. Andy has led the Trojans to the best 6 year span in program history, and has put the groundwork in for sustained success!
The #25 Trojans will take on FGCU tomorrow afternoon, and we will have a preview ready for you soon!
2-0 and on to the next!