By Rich Ruben
Freshman sensation Onyeka Okongwu had only 4 points at halftime, but exploded in the second half of SC’s 87-76 win over CSULB. He scored 14 in the first four plus minutes of the second half on the way to 28 points, 12 rebounds (half on the offensive end), 3 steals and one official block, though it appeared he had more. It never felt that the game was in doubt, but the Trojans could not pull away from The Beach. The largest lead was 14 with 3:21 left in the game.
The Trojans shot the ball well, and seemed to play with good energy throughout, but Long Beach refused to go away. They have good size inside, big guards, and a very good shooting threat in 6’6” guard Chance Hunter who finished with 18 points and at times kept The Beach within striking distance.
The crowd was pretty good, in part due to some ticket giveaway and reduced price programs, but with finals over and very few students at the game, there was not much noise or intensity from the stands.
The Beach switched its zone defense at the beginning of the second half and began to employ a full court press. Ethan Anderson did a great job against the press, and the 1-3-1 zone gave Big O a lot of room inside. By the time The Beach readjusted, O was too hot for Long Beach to slow him down.
At least five Trojans had very good games, and if the Trojans can get big performances from that many players each night, the prospects for the rest of the season look bright. The Trojans are in action next on Saturday against a very good LSU team as part of the HoopHall double header at Staples.
Big O Dominates
Big O’s numbers were crazy. He was 11-14 from the field in the second half on an assortment of dunks, put backs, shots on fast breaks, and quick moves near the rim. Once he got started, The Beach had no answer. On defense, he is able to both defend a shot by an opposing big man on one side of the rim, and still get the defensive rebound, and though he did not block a lot of shots, he altered several.
Jonah Mathews Has Found His Three Point Stroke
Jonah made 5-9 from three, continuing his recent success frown outside. He finished with 18 points, though he missed all three of his two point shots. After the game, Jonah reminded the media that a few weeks ago Daniel Utomi had answered a post game question about the guards’ shooting problems by saying simply that “the shots will fall”.
The Team Shot Well From Three
Speaking of Daniel, he made 3-5 from three. As a team, the Trojans were a solid 11-26 (42.3%) from outside. Nick Rakocevic made his only three point attempt. This type of outside production is needed on a consistent basis.
Isaiah Mobley Continues To Improve
Isaiah had another good all around game. He was 4-7 from the field and finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. Isaiah has played with much more physicality over the last couple of weeks, and is becoming a greater and more consistent force for the Trojans.
Ethan Anderson Shines
Rarely does a player who fails to score stand out, but Ethan dished out 12 assists against only 2 turnovers. As a team, Troy had 25 assists on 33 made baskets, a remarkable percentage and a demonstration that this group is unselfish and playing very good team basketball on the offensive end.
The Defensive Numbers Were Not As Pretty
The Beach made 47% of their shots and 39% from three. There were too many uncontested shots, but Long Beach also made some difficult shots. The Trojans must play better on the defensive end.
SC Did A Good Job Of Limiting Fouls
The Trojans only had three team fouls in the first half, and no one was in foul trouble in this game. Except for the Marquette debacle, the Trojans have done a good job of avoiding foul problems.
He was on the bench in sweats. He will begin practicing with the team after the Holiday Bowl.
Over the last month or so, two different basketball staffers have told me that the coaches believe that Max Agbonkpolo has the highest potential ceiling of all the freshmen. That is very high praise, and may be hyperbole, but he will be a big part of the Trojans’ future. In this game, Max was 2-3 from the field including one three, and finished with 5 points and 3 rebounds in just over 5 minutes. He also displayed his athleticism on a breakaway dunk. He needs to fill out and get physically stronger, but he is a player to watch.
Pre-Game Comments From Jason Hart
Jason started with very good news: finals are over and everyone is eligible.
Chuck O’Bannon has a plate inserted in his hand, and Jason doesn’t when Chuck will be able to play.
The biggest surprise has been the play of Ethan Anderson. Ethan has exceeded the staff’s expectations for this early in his career.
The starting lineup is now pretty well set. They expect to continue starting Big O, Nick, Jonah, Elijah Weaver and Ethan. In post game comments, Jonah said that the starting lineup has been stable for awhile, except for the discipline he earned by missing a class. Jonah laughed about it, and said that he is now through with classes.
Jason said that a focus for this game was to limit The Beach’s three point attempts, and to run them off the three point line. The Trojans didn’t succeed; Long Beach were able to take 28 threes and they made 11, for 39.3%. These numbers are too high.
Interview With Andy Enfield
After the game, Andy said that he thought the team played a solid game, and that the guards’ offensive play has been good the last three games. The ball movement, especially from side to side, and spacing have been much better, and they are getting better three point shots.
He loves this group of players and their intensity and closeness as a team.
In the first half, he thought the Trojans did not get out and challenge some of the perimeter shots, and they allowed The Beach to take too many three point attempts in this game.
The Trojans’ shot selection was terrible against Marquette.
Ethan had a great game. He sees things before they happen, and has a lot of Jordan McLaughlin in his game.
There is nothing new on the NCAA front. SC has fully cooperated for the last two years, and they hope for a quick resolution.
Interview With Big O
It took him awhile to get going in this game. In the second half, he knew he needed to play harder. Long Beach was focusing on him from the outset, and he needed to find ways to get the ball.
He played in a lot of big games in high school, both with and without the Ball brothers, and he is comfortable on the big stage. In high school almost every game was a big game, with a lot of media attention.
Isaiah was hurt over the summer, but Big O said Isaiah has been rapidly improving as his foot has gotten better.
He likes playing with Ethan. Ethan knows where he likes the ball, and is able to get it to him.
Interview With Jonah Mathews
Jonah wasn’t bothered by his poor shooting to start this season. He has started slow each year, and now feels he has hit his stride. As a group the guards are taking better shots in the last several games
He is really impressed with Ethan’s poise. He has known Ethan for a few years, and knew how good Ethan could be.
LSU is a big game. The Tigers were ranked in the top 25 to start the season, and a win would help SC’s resume.
This year’s team is similar to the team when he was a freshman. That team had McLaughlin, Weaver, Metu, Boatwright, Melton, and Nick.
The game against LSU has the potential to be a resume builder. The Tigers and Marquette are the best teams the Trojans will play before conference play begins on January 2. This game will be a big test and provides an opportunity to put the Marquette game completely behind them.
I believe the success of this season will be determined by the play of the guards on both offense and defense. Big O, Nick and Isaiah have demonstrated that between them they will score 40 plus almost every night and play good interior defense. Against Long Beach they combined for 48 points and 27 rebounds, and Nick added 4 steals. The guards are becoming more consistent on offense, but their defense has been spotty. To make a run for the upper echelon in the PAC 12, the perimeter defense must improve. The good news is that the Trojans have the players to make that improvement.
A final note on the NCAA investigation. I recently wrote about it in depth, but didn’t address one important topic – will the specter of possible sanctions impact recruiting?Andy and his staff have begun what may prove to be a good run over the next several years or longer. The Trojans should have good size and point guard play next year, but need to add more outside scoring to the roster. I expect Max to make a great leap next year, and red shirt Noah Bauman has a very smooth shot from three. But the Trojans will need to add more quality players. We will have to wait to see if they can do it during the spring signing period and from the transfer portal.