The No. 16 USC Trojans men’s basketball team continued its winning ways Tuesday night with a commanding 80-68 win over Eastern Kentucky at Galen Center.
Multiple Trojans had strong nights offensively, but none were more productive than Isaiah Mobley. The junior forward recorded his third double-double of the season, all coming in his last four games. Mobley finished with 23 points, a career high, and 13 rebounds, while shooting 8-for-10 from the field and 5-for-6 from three. His five 3-pointers were also a career best, allowing him to be a scoring threat anywhere and opening up the floor for his teammates.
“I think he’s playing within himself,” head coach Andy Enfield said about Mobley’s performance postgame. “He’s passing the ball at a high level, he’s shooting the ball when he needs to shoot it and he’s not forcing it, he’s letting the game come to him. He’s playing great basketball, and he’s a tricky defender as well. We’re really excited about his development, and if you see him rebound the ball, he anticipates and he can go get it out of his area now, which he struggled with early in his career.”
Mobley was one of four Trojans in double figures; redshirt senior forward Chevez Goodwin, senior guard Drew Peterson and junior forward Max Agbonkpolo all made contributions with 14, 15 and 12 points respectively. USC used its size to its advantage all night long, outscoring Eastern Kentucky in the paint 44-18, and scored 18 points on dunks alone.
The production the team got from its frontcourt helped make up for a difficult shooting night for junior guard Boogie Ellis, who did not score a point, going 0-for-10 shooting and 0-for-7 from beyond the arc. Ellis still found other ways to contribute, recording five rebounds and five assists while letting his frontcourt dominate the Colonels down low.
The offensive performance could have been even more dominant if it was not for turnovers. USC had an uncharacteristically poor night in that category, with some sloppy ball handling and passing leading to a season-high 18 giveaways. Those mistakes were the only sources of momentum for Eastern Kentucky, which outscored USC off of turnovers 21-2.
“This is like two games of turnovers for us; I think we’ve been averaging less than nine a game and we had 18,” Enfield said. “We had some poor decision making, any time you have four or five charges in a game, and we had some sloppy passes in the first half and in the second half. It was a good game for us to play, a different style. We can learn some things from this; luckily we won the game, and you always like to learn after a win vs a loss.”
On the other side of the court, it was business as usual for the Trojans. They held Eastern Kentucky to 68 points, 14 below its season average, and 32% shooting. USC has now held its opponents to a shooting percentage below 40% in all nine of its games this season. Senior guard Braxton Beverley, the Colonels’ top scorer on the night with 16 points, was not efficient against USC’s defense, shooting 5-for-15 from the field.
The Colonels revolve their offensive game around their 3-point shooting, and this game was no exception. They took every opportunity they could to put up shots from beyond the arc throughout the game, but the Trojans were well prepared, especially early. Eastern Kentucky missed five of its first six 3-point attempts and finished the first half at just 3-of-17 from that distance.
USC’s ability to contest and disrupt its opponents’ primary source of scoring held the high-powered Colonel offense to a mere 25 points in the first half.
“We knew how they play; we knew they were a dangerous team,” Peterson said about his team’s defense. “They’ve competed with a lot of good teams like West Virginia. We knew the scout and we played it well until it got a little bit closer than we’d hoped at the end, but we knew what we had to do to put them away.”
Although the Trojans did not trail after the score was 6-5 more than four minutes into the game, Eastern Kentucky did go on a few offensive spurts to keep it closer than it needed to be. Each time this happened, however, the Trojans were able to respond with a big run of their own.
One such sequence occurred in the final five minutes of the opening half, when the Colonels went on a 6-0 run in the span of a minute to get back within a single-digit deficit. In response, Peterson drilled a corner three, and USC then had dunks on three straight offensive possessions, with alley-oop finishes from Peterson and redshirt sophomore forward Joshua Morgan. This series electrified the crowd and stole momentum right back into USC’s hands heading into the halftime break.
In the game’s closing minutes, Eastern Kentucky put one last scare into the home crowd. Thanks in part to a couple of turnovers from the Trojans’ reserve players, the Colonels ripped off 11 unanswered points in 58 seconds to cut the lead from 23 to 12. After that run, however, Enfield brought his starters back into the game, and USC protected that lead to the final horn.
Tuesday’s win marked nine straight for the Trojans to open up the season, the program’s longest undefeated streak to open up a season since 2016. It is also the seventh time in their first nine outings that they have won by at least 10 points.
They will look to keep their perfect season going in the second game of a three-game homestand against Long Beach State on Sunday afternoon.