The 24th ranked Trojans made quick work of St. Joe's on Thanksgiving Day, defeating the Hawks 70-55. In what has become a familiar storyline so far, USC jumped came out firing and jumped out to a double-digit lead in the opening minutes.
USC showcased an extremely balanced offensive attack, and once again allowed fierce defense to set the tone for the game.
USC was able to maintain its first half dominance and enter halftime with a 38-26 lead. Through five games, USC has outscored their opponents 218-135 in the first half, averaging the break with a 16.5 point lead. Chalk it up to a combination of overmatched opponents and great game planning, but USC has avoided slow starts, and has been able to hit stride relatively quickly in each of its first five games.
In last night's game the Trojans were led by a three-headed attack, one that featured a new offensive weapon, Joshua Morgan.
Morgan played with an intensity that we have not really seen much of during his short tenure as a Trojan. In fact, during a two minute span in the first half, Morgan was sent to the foul line on three consecutive Trojan possessions, grabbing two offensive rebounds in the process. Morgan showcases a nose for rebounding, and was able to anticipate misses and beat his defender to locations. Even better, Morgan made 5 of 6 free throw attempts!
The 6'11" Sophomore finished the first half with 7 points, and ultimately chipped in a USC best 13 points. Morgan's defense was Evan Mobley-esque, as he blocked 2 shots, had a steal and altered about 5 others. St. Joe's has good size inside, and while the Hawk's Center, Ejike Obinna, was able to score a career high 18 points, USC was able to limit production from the other front court players. Coming off the bench, Morgan is a dangerous weapon, especially against opposing reserves.
Aiding Morgan in the first half were mainstays, Boogie Ellis and Chevez Goodwin. Ellis was once again tremendous, and tallied 11 first half points. Ellis can create his own shot as well as any Trojan in recent memory, but his patience is a real difference maker. Rarely does Ellis force any shot, and unless he is firing up a "heat check" type three, he is dangerously efficient. I do not think there is any doubt at this point, if USC needs a bucket, Ellis is getting the ball. Andy trusts him to make the right decision, and I am perfectly content with that.
Goodwin tallied 6 points in the first half, but also did a great job on the boards, grabbing 6 rebounds. We documented how St. Joe's size may have been an issue for the Trojans, but Goodwin did his part in limiting second chance points, and had some impressive rebounds in traffic. Chevez has established himself as a crucial part of the team and remains second on the squad, averaging nearly 14 points per game.
In the pregame report, we spoke of St. Joe's affinity for the three pointer. USC shut down this aspect of their game, holding the Hawks to 13% (2-15) from deep in the first half. Taylor Funk and Jordan Hall was constantly harassed by Drew Peterson and Isaiah Mobley, and the Hawk's offense sputtered without their production.
So far this season, Andy has reminded me of a football coach in his effort to turn his opponents into one-dimensional teams. Coach Enfield has quickly identified what his opponent will likely try to do, and Andy has aimed to shut that down. By forcing teams to adjust from the comfort zone, USC has been able to gain huge leads as our opponents work through new game plans. While not a novel approach, Andy has done a great job thus far, and deserves a good deal of credit!
As great as the Trojans have been in the first half, the second half has provided some challenges. Contentment and an easing up of intensity and coaching adjustments have been cause for some concern. St. Joe's came out in the second half ready to play, and quickly cut the USC lead down to 7. Taylor Funk provided a quick spark, and drilled a three ball in the process.
USC has gone through dry-spells in the opening minutes of the second half, and the cure has always been defense. USC's offense is triggered by good defense and transition play. The versatility of the roster allows USC to rebound and run, regardless of who has the ball. When USC has locked in defensively, the offense follows, which is exactly what happened. Once the Hawk's cut the lead to 7, the Trojans toughed up on defense, and got three critical stops in a row, and scored 6 straight points to extend the halftime lead to 13.
The lead never receded back to single digits, as USC pushed it out to 20 with about 7 minutes remaining. USC eased up in the final minutes, and allowed the Freshman to receive some playing time. Reece Dixon-Waters and Kobe Johnson both received meaningful minutes, and Dixon-Waters was once again impressive on both ends. In just 12 minutes, Reece picked up 3 steals, the last of which led to an easy and-one layup. If Isaiah White remains out for any meaningful time, Andy has his replacement in the Freshman.
The Trojans finished the game with a 15 point victory, led by 17 from Ellis, 13 from Morgan and 10 from Goodwin. 6 other Trojans scored at least 6 points, and more importantly USC held St. Joe's gunner Jordan Hall to just 2 points on 1-12 shooting. Drew Peterson fills whatever role Andy needs from him, whether that be primary facilitator, defensive enforcer or scorer, while he did not put up eye opening numbers in this game, his defense was a huge factor.
USC will have a big opportunity to make a statement tonight versus San Diego State. SDSU enters the game 4-1 after defeating Georgetown late last night 73-56. The Aztecs lone loss came to upstart BYU (now ranked #18). This should end up as a Tier 1 opponent (Top 50 RPI at Neutral site) and USC needs to capitalize on each opportunity it has to secure big out of conference wins. There will be a more in-depth preview coming soon, but this will be the first game USC enters as underdogs, with the Vegas gurus placing SDSU as a 1.5 point favorite...we will see about that!
Keep an eye open for the preview!
Until then 5-0 feels good!