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Trojan front line leads win over Pepperdine; What we learned about the Trojans

By Rich Ruben

The three Trojan big men scored 63 points in an 91-84 win over Pepperdine. Freshman Onyeka Okongwu led with 33 points on 8-11 from the field and 17-21 from the free throw line. Senior Nick Rakocevic scored 16 points, including making his first three, and led Troy with 11 rebounds and 6 assists. Freshman Isaiah Mobley had his best all around game, scoring 14 points on 6-13 from the field. And senior guard Jonah Mathews chipped in 16, on 5-12 from the field including 3-7 from three.

SC needed all of these contributions to overcome a career game and incredible performance from Pepperdine guard Colbey Ross who finished with 38 points, making one incredible shot after another. He was a one man show for most of the game – the Waves scored 84 points on 30 made field goals, yet had only 5 assists. Ross created his own shots in almost every way imaginable. Watching him play, it’s hard to recall any shots he missed. After the game Coach Enfield said they tried changing how they defended Ross multiple times, including switching who was guarding Ross, trying different ball screen coverages, and playing a zone on several possessions.

The Trojans are now 5-0, and host the Temple Owls Friday night before playing three games Thanksgiving weekend at the Orlando Invitational. This week the Trojans received two votes in the AP poll; hopefully SC will get more national attention if they continue to win.

This was a good Pepperdine team. They came into the game with four players scoring in double figures. Before the game, Assistant Coach Chris Capko said there were some scouts in attendance in part to see the Waves’ 6’8” sophomore forward Kessler Edwards. He entered the game leading the team in scoring and rebounding, but the Trojans held Edwards scoreless.

What We Learned About The Trojans

  • Enfield said after the game that the strategy was to use their size advantage. They expected the Waves to double team when the ball went inside, and he was pleased with how the Trojan bigs worked against the double teams. On SC’s first possession, Pepperdine triple teamed when the ball went into the low post.
  • The Trojans made 82% of their free throws, mostly due to Big O. SC won the game at the line, making 28-34, while the Waves were 15-18. The Trojans kept their fouls to a minimum. Pepperdine don’t get to the bonus until the last 30 seconds in each half.
  • It is hard to judge SC’s defensive effort because of Ross’ great performance. As a team, the Waves shot 47% from the field and 41% from three.
  • The Trojans shot the ball a little better from outside, making 7-20 threes. The guards made a combined 9-24 from the field, which continues to be a problem. The staff believes they have a good group of shooters; Andy said after the game that “they make them in practice”. He also said that they made 35% of their threes against the Waves, and last year SC made 38%, which was in the top 20 in the country. Chris Capko said before the game that the guards have not shot the ball very well, and this is an area they are working on in practice. Several of the guards took very few shots. Sophomore Elijah Weaver took only 2 shots in 27 minutes, grad transfer Daniel Utomi took only 2 shots in 14 1/2 minutes, and grad transfer Quinton Adlesh took only 3 shots in 20 1/2 minutes.
  • Freshman point guard Ethan Anderson was not as efficient with the ball as he was in the first four games. In 22 1/2 minutes, he had 4 assists and 4 turnovers.
  • The Trojans had great ball movement throughout the game. They had 22 assists on 28 made field goals, a tremendous ratio.
  • An odd stat from this game is that the bigger Trojans only out scored the Waves 38-30 in the paint. But Big O and Nick made a combined 22 free throws on fouls committed almost exclusively down low. Whether fouling was a Pepperdine strategy or not, they gave the SC bigs many chances from the line, and they both shot very well.
  • Everyone played except Chuck O’Bannon, though Kyle Sturdivant and Max Agbonkpolo played limited minutes.
  • Another poor crowd. It was a 6:00 tip off, which likely didn’t help. At the tip, there were about 50 students and perhaps a thousand people in the building. The final crowd count was perhaps double that size. Even the band came in a few minutes after the game started.
  • In pregame warmups Big O made several threes. He doesn’t shoot a jump shot; at least in warmups, he shoots like a free throw.  Nick made a shot along the sideline from behind the basket which went over the board and swished without touching the rim. He was pretty excited.
  • The New York Times listed the game against Temple on Friday as one of this week’s “Games to Watch”.
  • Before the game, in answer to my question, Coach Capko said that they do not expect to sign anyone besides 7’0” Evan Mobley in the early signing period. He said that they are being selective about who they bring in, and expect to sign some very good players in the Spring. From my review, it does not appear that any of the top prospects the Trojans are recruiting have signed elsewhere at this point.
  • There was a ceremony before the game during which Nick and Jonah were presented balls in honor of scoring their 1000th point for the Trojans.
  • In answer to a question after the game, O said that he doesn’t believe in “pressure”. He simply believes in playing with great energy and playing his game.
  • I asked Isaiah after the game about how he came out so energized in the second half. He scored 11 of his 14 points after halftime, and was much more active offensively. Isaiah said he had been inconsistent in other games, and the coaches told him at halftime to be more aggressive and to look for his opportunities. The three bigs were never in the game at the same time, and in the second half Isaiah played mostly inside and showed some good moves to get makable shots.
  • O, Isaiah, and Max have known each other for many years and are good friends, and enjoy playing together. Newly signed recruit Evan Mobley is also part of this group.