By Rich Ruben
The Trojans completed a sweep of the Arizona schools with 71-61 win over ASU on Saturday. SC led for the final 38 minutes. The Trojans were ahead 41-36 at the half behind Daniel Utomi’s 13 points and 5 rebounds. Jonah Mathews took over the second half, and finished with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. The Trojans are now 21-9 and 10-7 in conference play with a home game against the Bruins next Saturday afternoon to close the regular season.
The Trojans were very hot early, and led by as many as 13 in the first half. They had their best start of the season, making 8 of their first 11 shots and were 4-5 from three early. Daniel made 4 threes in the first 9 minutes. They also had out rebounded the Devils 21-11 at halftime. The Trojan defense in the first half was also very good, limiting ASU to 35% from the field and 29% from three. Devil star Remy Martin had 10 early points, but did not score again until mid way thru the second half. The first half stats should have resulted in a much bigger halftime lead, but just like the first game between the teams a few weeks ago in Tempe, the ASU press and quickness hurt the Trojans. SC had 24 turnovers in a two point loss in the first game and they were on the way to a similar result with 13 at the half in this rematch.
The Trojans turned the ball over twice more in the first 39 seconds of the second half, and it looked like SC might fumble the game away again. However SC was able to handle the ball much better in the final 19 1/2 minutes and had only 4 more TOs.
All of the offensive stats favored the Trojans. For the game they made 50% of their shots, 45% from three (Utomi made 4, Mathews 3 and Adlesh 2) while limiting the Devils to 33% and 24% from three. The turnovers gave ASU 10 more shots than the Trojans but the Trojans shut down everyone except Martin who finished with 22 points.
The Sun Devils rallied to close to within a point with just under 9 minutes left. Jonah then went to work and made a basket and was fouled. He converted the free throw and on ASU’s next possession he grabbed the defensive rebound and made a three on the other end. He continued to dominate the game down the stretch.
The Devils press and quickness kept them in the game. Ethan Anderson had foul trouble, and SC struggled without backup point guard Kyle Sturdivant (who is due back on campus on Monday after his father’s funeral). Quinton Adlesh played almost 20 minutes at the point and did a good job defensively, but he and Elijah Weaver are not good enough ball handlers against this type pressure defense and they combined for 8 turnovers.
As of Saturday night the Trojans are in fifth place in the conference, a half game behind ASU and Colorado, a half game ahead of Arizona and a game ahead of Stanford. With a win over the Bruins it is possible SC can finished tied for second, though that is unlikely. Even with a win, it is most likely SC will finish fifth and play Washington in the first round of the conference tournament, but upsets next week can change things. Most teams play twice next week. The Trojans started the day at 45 in the NET rankings, just behind ASU. This win will likely provide a small boost.
It’s The Defense
Before the game, I tried to find stats to help explain this season. I couldn’t find anything on offense that correlated to explain SC wins or losses. What I did find was that entering this game the Trojans’ defensive efficiency was 37th nationally out of approximately 360 teams. Their offensive efficiency was a very average 192. The Trojans’ defensive performance in this win will raise the season stats.
After the game, Coach Enfield made the same point. “The fact we have 21 wins is a testament to our defense. That’s who we are this year.” In several games the guards have shot poorly and until Jonah’s recent play, they didn’t have a true go to scorer. On the other hand, they have held many opponents to under 40% from the field, and a few at or under 30%. Most of the Trojans’ wins have come from their defense.
For the year, SC’s opponents are making only 38% of their shots and 31% from three. When they play defense at this level they are hard to beat. The Trojans are not a great shooting team; they make 44% from the field and almost 35% from three.
News And Notes
– Devil Head Coach Bobby Hurley was obnoxious as usual. He stomps his feet, yells and/ or crosses his arms with an intense glare after every play which doesn’t go his way. He is in a referee’s face after every foul called on his team and every time he thinks a foul should have been called against the Trojans. I don’t know why any referee puts up with his constant antics.
– One time Trojan commit ASU Sophomore Taeshon Cherry is not having a big impact for ASU. He comes off the bench, and in this game he took only two shots and made one three in 15 minutes. He did have 4 rebounds.
– Onyeka Okongwu finished with 10 points and only 4 rebounds. He only took 6 shots, similar to his low point production in the game at Tempe.
– Nick made 5-7 shots, collected 11 boards, and had 3 assists while playing almost 34 minutes. Before the game Assistant Coach Chris Capko said Nick was not back to full strength after his bout with a significant virus and they were not sure how many minutes Nick could play. He was limited in Thursday’s win over UofA but he clearly had much more energy on Saturday, though his weight loss is noticeable.
– Daniel finished 7-13 from the field for 19 points and he grabbed 10 rebounds.
– Ethan Anderson’s time was limited in part due to foul trouble and partly because he was not effective. He didn’t score in 13 minutes, though he had 3 of the team’s 11 assists.
– Elijah also struggled and didn’t score in his 13 minutes and he had 5 turnovers.
– The crowd may have been the largest of the season, and Coach Enfield said after the game that the crowd energy “was tremendous. There is no reason we can’t get 700 to 800 students every game. It would be nice for the students to get behind this team.” He expects a large crowd next week.
– Drake London was back with the team and participated in warmups. Andy said that it has been difficult for Drake. He missed a lot of the season due to football, and after a few weeks with the basketball he went out with mono, and then missed time with the virus which ran through the team.
– Assistant Coach Capko said before the game that they worked on breaking the press and used six defenders to try to simulate ASU’s speed. He also praised Jonah, saying he has had a really good year. They rely on Jonah to score and also guard the best perimeter player on the other team, and Capko said Jonah would guard Martin. The game plan was “to make Remy work for his points.”
– However for most of the game Martin was guarded by Quinton, Ethan or Elijah. I asked Andy why Jonah wasn’t on Martin, and he said that “it is hard to guard Martin the whole game and have any legs left.” He pointed out that Jonah did guard Martin over the final six minutes. Andy said “I was shocked that Jonah was so good on Thursday against Arizona (after suffering from the virus) and he has been playing super basketball.”
– Andy was asked why they did not take the ball to the basket quickly when they did break the press. He said that this team cannot play up tempo with freshmen point guards; this team is not like the team a few years ago when Julian Jacobs and Jordan MacLaughlin were sure ball handlers and very good on the break. This year the point guard play “has been streaky.”
– He also said “the four seniors really came to play. I told the freshmen in the locker room that this is what seniors do.”
-In answer to a question Andy said that, “I’m not concerned about our tournament resume. We are focused on the next game. We are as capable of winning games in Las Vegas as any team in the league.”
– In talking about Q’s play in this game, Andy said that “Q is a captain for a reason. He is one of the best teammates I’ve ever coached. Defensively he was exceptional.”
– Q said that he is “not bothered all that much” with his role on the team and lack of playing time. “It’s hard to complain when we’re winning. I try to lead by example and be vocal when I can.” Jonah said that “Q plays very good defense against everyone and always gives it his all. Q brings so much to the table.” Jonah also sad Q stepped up and had a big role in breaking the press.
– Q said that he is humbled by guarding Jonah in practice. He added that “Martin makes really difficult shots, and you need to live with that.”
– On a play in the second half the Trojans got a turnover and Nick was dribbling the ball across mid court. When a defender closed in, he dribbled behind his back and passed to Daniel for a layup. The crowd went crazy. I asked Jonah and Q about that play and they both started laughing. Q said that “Nick is a gamer and I wasn’t surprised. That’s Nick.” Jonah added that when he met Nick in AAU ball during high school, “believe it or not, Nick was not a back to the basket player” and Nick could handle the ball.
– Jonah called Daniel “the X factor. When he plays well, he gives us a shot in the arm.”
– Jonah was asked if he had flashbacks to the 24 turnovers in Tempe when the team had 13 at the half. He said not really, and pointed out that they handled the ball much better in the second half.
– Jonah said the virus this week came over him very quickly. He got two IVs and was drinking a lot of water.
I thought before the weekend that the Trojans would probably clinch a spot in the tournament if they won two of the last three. If that was accurate, the Trojans may be playing for tournament seeding from here on out. It is likely that SC will have to play a week from Wednesday in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament regardless if they beat the very hot Bruins.
If they finish fifth they will play the last place team, which today is UW. That may not be a good matchup for the Trojans. Washington may be the most under performing team in the country, with two five star freshmen forwards that are expected to be first round picks this Spring. The Trojans beat UW in mid February, but the Huskies may be a different team in Las Vegas. Their point guard, Kentucky transfer and former five star Quade Green, has been academically ineligible since the first week of January. There have been rumors that he may regain eligibility in March. The Huskies were a very different team with Green, beating Baylor to start the season and the Bears were recently ranked No. 1 in the country.
If the Trojans need another win to get into March Madness, it may be tougher to come by than one might think. Somehow the Bruins lead the Pac-12. Get ready for March, it will be fun!