The USC men’s basketball team opened up the 2020-21 campaign on an unexpectedly interesting note on Wednesday, scraping out an overtime win against the California Baptist Lancers, 95-87.
It was the Trojans star big man Evan Mobley who lifted the team to victory.
From the tip, the No. 1 recruit was all he’d been cracked up to be on both ends of the floor. Mobley finished with 21 points on 10-15 from the field, scoring at all three levels of the floor. He terrorized the Lancers defensively, particularly in the second half and in overtime, coming up with multiple key blocks and shot alterations.
“I felt pretty good,” Mobley said. “My teammates got me the ball in the right spots. I’m pretty happy with my performance.”
While he plays a different brand of basketball than last year’s freshman phenom, Onyeka Okongwu, based on tonight’s performance, it is abundantly clear that Evan Mobley can have every bit as much of an impact, if not more.
Other stars of the night for USC were the starting backcourt members, Tahj Eaddy and Ethan Anderson.
Eaddy, in his debut for the cardinal and gold, displayed the craftiness and savvy that one would expect from a redshirt senior, nailing the game-tying 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime. The transfer guard finished with 18 points and four rebounds, including six from the charity stripe.
Assisting on the clutch shot was point guard Ethan Anderson, who struggled to find his footing for much of the game. But the sophomore team captain came up huge down the stretch, forcing a late steal and hitting a fastbreak layup that catalyzed the Trojans’ late comeback.
“My biggest identity is that I can help the team in many different ways,” said Anderson, who finished with 11 points and four assists. “I’m not going to hang my head after a missed shot. I’m going to be able to affect the game in other ways.”
For teams with lofty expectations like USC, opening day serves as a tune-up in preparation for the meat of the schedule, but CBU gave the Trojans all that they could handle on this night — much to the satisfaction of Lancers head coach Rick Croy.
“Really proud of our team,” praised Croy. “I thought we fought extremely hard. There were probably three or four stretches where USC separated but we just stayed with it.”
The Lancers made it rain on the Trojans all game long, led by junior guard Ty Rowell who led all scorers with 32 points. They put together a Golden State Warriors-esque performance from beyond the arc, finishing the night 11 for 21 from range. It was this constant barrage of 3-pointers that allowed Cal Baptist to stay in the game all night, fighting back from deficits as large as nine points.
“Cal Baptist played an excellent game tonight,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said in the postgame press conference. “They made a lot of threes, the most we’ve ever given up. They made shot after shot, tough shots. Give them credit.”
Opening night for USC men’s basketball undeniably left much to be desired for Trojan faithful.
Going 26% from the 3-point line and 53% from the free-throw line are not listed anywhere on the recipe for winning basketball. And a 19:17 assist to turnover ratio is certainly nothing to call home about, either. Defensively, the coaching staff struggled to adjust to CBU’s hot streak, a factor that was almost the team’s undoing. But a win is most certainly a win – especially in these times in which the ominous uncertainty of COVID-19 clouds the remainder of the season.
After a brief break to get their Thanksgiving grub on, the Trojans are back at it again on Saturday, facing the Montana Grizzlies at the Galen Center.