Basketball

USC men’s basketball falls to Oregon for second loss in three games

A brutal first half dug the Trojans a hole they couldn’t climb out of.

Junior forward Isaiah Mobley, on his back on the ground, holds a basketball while looking to pass. An Oregon defender in a green uniform has his arms out and is standing over Mobley.

Following an early bucket by the visiting Oregon Ducks Saturday night at Galen Center, USC junior forward Isaiah Mobley had his subsequent inbounds pass stolen. Assisted by the author of the takeaway (redshirt senior guard Jacob Young), senior guard Will Richardson capitalized on the gaffe nine seconds later by draining a 3-pointer at the top of the key. Just a minute and 56 seconds into the game, USC found itself already down five.

Head coach Andy Enfield called a timeout, clapped his hands once in frustration and shared a few fired-up words as his team headed for the bench.

It was that kind of night.

USC suffered its second loss of the season and its first at Galen Center since Feb. 20 of last year, falling to Oregon by a final score of 79-69. After starting the season 13-0, the Trojans have now lost two of their last three.

That early sequence was emblematic of the forces that dug USC into an ultimately insurmountable 16-point hole at the half. Richardson — averaging 13.6 points per game entering Saturday — erupted for 19 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from deep in the opening 20 minutes and finished with a career- and game-high 28 while the Trojans kicked the ball around to the tune of eight first-half turnovers.

“It was a lack of offensive toughness, where when we drove, they knocked the ball away quite a few times. We had the ball in the lane, they would reach and strip the ball from us,” Enfield said of the turnovers. “I don’t like to give up 15 transition points, but when you turn the ball over eight times in one half, that happens.”

The game could’ve been even more lopsided, but junior guard Boogie Ellis had one of his better halves this season with 14 points in the first on 4-of-7 from deep, giving USC a fighting chance at the break. He and Mobley led the Trojans with 18 points apiece on the night.

But their help was few and far between, as senior guard Drew Peterson (10 points) was the only other Trojan in double figures. Meanwhile, Richardson, junior guard De’vion Harmon (16) and junior center N’Faly Dante (12) each shot above 50% from the field to provide a lethal three-headed monster on the Oregon offense.

“We’ve just gotta get guys’ confidence back up,” Mobley said. “The COVID pause didn’t help, but I’m not gonna sit here and blame it on that. We’ve just gotta keep going, guys just gotta keep getting better. Including myself, including Boogie. And I think we’ll go from there.”

Scoring down low was also an issue for the Trojans, who were deterred by 6-foot-11 Oregon bigs Dante and sophomore center Franck Kepnang. They had two and four blocks, respectively, and their presence down low contributed to USC’s 6-of-13 success rate on layups.

“I feel like this is our first game that we really played against some guys that were lengthy like that. A couple games that we played, we played against a lot of slower bigs, slower guys, so it was kinda easy to get layups around the rim,” Ellis said.

“Something that we’ve gotta work on is coming to that jump stop in the paint, drawing one big … and being able to make that pass to get [redshirt senior forward] Chevez [Goodwin] and [redshirt sophomore forward] Josh [Morgan] dunks if we don’t have a floater or stuff like that.”

Trojan fans who expected Oregon to serve as a relatively easy opponent were equal parts mistaken and misinformed. The Ducks had themselves quite the SoCal road trip this week, first taking down No. 3 UCLA in an overtime thriller Thursday in Westwood before dismantling No. 5 USC two days later in South Central.

Still, the second loss this week to a team not considered one of the Pac-12′s premier is cause for concern. USC, despite its undefeated start, is still yet to face a ranked opponent all season and figures to plummet significantly in the national rankings come Monday’s AP Poll.

“These games, we kinda needed them to see what it’s like to hit some adversity,” Ellis said. “Now we know what we have to work on and get better on. Sometimes when you take some losses, it helps you become better as a team, so we just gotta put it past us and get ready, because it’s not gonna stop. We have big games coming up and we’ve gotta figure out, come together and get the job done.”