USC Improves to 9-0 Despite Sloppy Play
I intentionally gave myself a few days to write this recap, as I wanted to attack my writing with fresh eyes. I am not going to bury the lead, the Trojans once again prevailed defeating a pesky Eastern Kentucky team 80-86. With the win, USC has improved to 9-0 and its best start since 2016 (the 2016-2017 Trojans began the season winning 14 straight). USC has been dominate for the majority of this season. The Trojan offense has found its rhythm attacking teams from all angles, establishing a consistent inside game, supplemented by constantly improving 3 point shooting. The Trojan defense has been stifling, and USC has consistently found ways to eliminate the opponents best scorer. I know that we have not played the toughest schedule in the country, but scorers usually find a way to score, and I have been impressed with the Trojans so far. It appears as though the entire team has bought into Coach Enfield's philosophy, and the team's success so far speaks volumes to Andy's program.
Since the EKU game was such a roller coaster, the easiest way to attack this recap may be through a traditional The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
Isaiah Mobley was brilliant in this game. He single handedly carried USC in the first half, and established a new career high. Mobley, who was poised to finally be the guy this year has stepped up his production big time, and has been dynamic. Mobley finished this game with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. The 6'10" matchup nightmare also drained 5-6 from beyond the arc. Mobley is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence, and his aptitude and feel for the game are intangibles that benefit the Trojans immensely. He is a skilled passer and an unselfish player, he rarely forces shots, and always seems to be in the proper position. USC will be matched up with some tough big men (Arizona's Azoulas Tubelis and Christian Koloko stand out immediately), but I like the Trojan bigs in any matchup.
Joining Mobley in the front court have been a pair of highly efficient Trojans, Chevez Goodwin and Joshua Morgan. Goodwin has been the surprise of the year, taking the leap from contributing bench player, to offensive stud. Against EKU, Chevez was a perfect 6-6 from the field, and grabbed 7 rebounds to add to his 14 points. Goodwin has been active on the offensive glass all season, and like Mobley always seems to be in the right position. Morgan was supposed to serve primarily as a rim-protecting big man off the bench, and while his defense has lived up to the hype, his offensive intensity has been a huge surprise. Morgan went 4-4 from the field and grabbed 5 rebounds in just 15 minutes. Morgan scored 6 of his 8 points on dunks, and his length and athleticism make him a tough assignment for almost any interior defender.
Depth has been a huge talking point for me so far this season, and for a good reason. Once again, 4 Trojans reached double figures, with Agbonkpolo and Peterson joining Mobley and Goodwin. Drew shook of a shaky start and hit a couple of threes, while Max has showed improved patience and a willingness to drive to the basket. His length, quickness and bounce are a huge advantage in any man-to-man scenario. Agbonkpolo has played his way into the starting lineup, and he seems poised to continue his progress.
USCs defense was tremendous for 36 minutes. USC's length paralyzed EKU's potent offensive attack. In fact, EKU was just 3-16 from three in the first half, and made just 27% of their first half shots. USC entered the break up 16, 41-25. Long shots often lead to long rebounds, and USC gave up 12 offensive rebounds on Tuesday, but overall the defense was once again fantastic...for 36 minutes.
Isaiah White missed Tuesday's game to study for his final exams. Good for Isaiah to focus on his academics as he pursues his graduate degree. Odds are he will not play at the next level, and is nice to see him focusing on his academics. Hopefully we will see him back to full strength and production soon!
Eastern Kentucky is not a bad team. As we covered in the pre-game, they rely almost exclusively on the three pointer and pray that their press can create the occasional turnover. As reference above, USC did a good job at slowing them down for 36 minutes. With 4 minutes remaining and a 23 point lead, Andy Enfield removed his starters, and let the Freshman get some run time, and the wheels fell off. EKU responded with an 11-0 run in about 70 seconds, and Andy had to grab his starters from the bench to ward off any further damage. Again, they were bound to make some shots, but the casual attitude of the freshman in a situation where they were to get meaningful minutes was discouraging. Malik Thomas, in particular looked like he was playing in a park game, and brought no intensity or discipline to the game. It was hard to see Andy go and put his starters in after they had fought hard to preserve the lead. Hopefully it becomes a learning experience for the youngsters.
18...yes you read that correctly, USC had 18 Turnovers against Eastern Kentucky. The Trojans had done a tremendous job at limiting turnovers so far this season, and this game was one gigantic step in the wrong direction. Every Trojan who entered the game (except Kobe Johnson) had at least one turnover, and it was sloppy. Crazy, cross-court passes, reckless drives and one-on-one failures led to the inflated turnover numbers, and you could tell Andy was not thrilled with any of it. I am not sure what more can be said of it, it just needs to improve.
Free Throw shooting will cost this team a game this year if it does not improve. The Trojans made just 7-13 attempts, spearheaded by Goodwin's 2-6. While I doubt it happens anytime soon, teams may soon begin to deploy the "Hack-a-Shaq" tactic on Goodwin (I will start brainstorming on the moniker now) and just force the Trojan Center to beat them at the free throw line. For comparison sake, Chevez is shooting 67% from the field this year, and just 37.5% from the FT line, at this point the numbers would justify the strategy.
Boogie Ellis was held to 0 points on 0-10 shooting. If I did not watch this with my own two eyes, I would not believe it. Ellis, who is the most natural scorer on USC seemed bothered by the constant pressure, and was determined to see the ball fall through the net. He was 0-7 from deep, and struggled all game. It was an ugly game for the Memphis transfer, but expect a quick bounce back for Boogie.
USC has a few days off for Finals, and will return to the Galen Center Sunday for a date with 3-6 Long Beach State.