Lockdown defense makes up for poor shooting night in USC men’s basketball’s win over St. Joseph’s

The Trojans forced the Hawks to cough up 15 turnovers in Anaheim.

A photo of USC freshman guard Reese Dixon-Waters and redshirt sophomore forward Joshua Morgan wearing gold uniforms blocking a shot from a St. Joseph's player in a white uniform.

No. 24 USC held St. Joseph’s to a 35% shooting percentage in a decisive 70-55 Trojans victory on Thursday. The win advanced USC to the championship round of the Paycom Wooden Legacy bracket.

The Trojans began the game in complete control with a dunk in the first 13 seconds courtesy of redshirt senior Chevez Goodwin and a 15-2 run midway through the first half of play. This gave USC a 14-point lead, and the game was never in doubt from that point forward.

The Trojans led 38-26 at halftime and the second half displayed the same exceptional defense. The Trojans ended with six blocks while keeping the Hawks’ shooting at bay, especially from behind the 3-point line: USC held them to an abysmal 6-of-31 shooting from beyond the arc.

USC also picked up six steals in the game. The main contributor to USC’s thievery was freshman guard Reese Dixon-Waters, who had three of the team’s steals, including one late in the second half that he turned into an and-one layup on the other end of the floor.

Junior forward Max Agbonkpolo made his first start of the season, presumably due to his stellar performance off the bench in USC’s last game against Dixie State, in which he put up 17 points and six rebounds in just 15 minutes. Against the Hawks, Agbonkpolo cooled down but still posted valuable stats in the form of six points and five rebounds.

The bench continued to provide a steady stream of points for USC even with Agbonkpolo moved to the starting lineup, as redshirt sophomore forward Joshua Morgan scored a career-high as a Trojan with 13 points off the bench. Morgan also participated in the defensive block party with two blocks on the night.

USC’s defense had its way with St. Joseph’s, but the Trojans’ starters had a lackluster showing on offense. USC combined for just 42% shooting from the field and dynamic scorers junior forward Isaiah Mobley and senior guard Drew Peterson failed to make more than 25% of their shots.

While the Trojans may have been able to overcome a shooting spell against 2-2 St. Joseph’s, a similar output would give USC difficulty against its next opponent, San Diego State. The Aztecs have made over 45% of their shots this season — a much higher percentage than St. Joseph’s 35% against USC.

The lone offensive bright spot among the starters was junior guard Boogie Ellis, who led the team with 17 points and four assists. Ellis further showed his ability to create his own shots with a turnaround jumper late in the game that had the fans in Anaheim Arena on their feet.

USC will take on San Diego State in the championship game of the Paycom Wooden Legacy tournament on Friday.