By Rich Ruben
The Trojans beat Fairfield in a low scoring game, 54-47. SC did not exhibit much energy through most of the first half, and trailed by as many as eight mid way through the half. They played much better from that point on, leading by three at the half and pulled away to lead by twelve in the last couple of minutes. The final score is a bit deceptive.
The Trojans’ game plan was apparent from the outset – get the ball inside and use their superior size and athleticism to pound the Stags, but Troy was cold early on. Eventually, they found their footing. They got balanced scoring with Onyeka Okongwu leading the way with 14 points and 10 rebounds, making 6-11 from the floor. Jonah Mathews added 14 and Elijah Weaver 13. In a sign that maybe the guards are breaking out of their collective slump, Jonah made 3-5 from three and Elijah made 2-3. Nick Rakocevic scored only 5 points on 2-9 from the field, though he did grab 8 rebounds.
After the first several minutes, the Trojans played very strong defense without fouling. Fairfield made only 17-63 (27%) from the field, and only took six free throws. As a team, SC made 5-12 threes and shot just under 42% from the field. They missed a lot of shots around the rim, especially early in the game, and made only 9 of 17 free throws.
From looking at the game statistics, it would appear that SC had an easy time and should have won big. But the pace was slow, and the Trojans only out rebounded the Stags by 6. However they also outscored Fairfield by 16 on fast breaks and by 18 in the paint. The Trojans will take the win, and play Marquette on Friday in the second round. The Golden Warriors beat Davidson by 10 in the late game on Thursday.
What We Learned About The Trojans
- Only five Trojans scored from the field. Beside Big O, Jonah, Elijah and Nick, Isaiah Mobley had 6 points and 9 rebounds. The bench scored only 8 points; Quinton Adlesh added two free throws to Elijah’s total.
- The Trojans have not played a complete game since the exhibition win over Villanova. And in every game, including Villanova, the Trojans have started slowly and played better in the second half. This trend has to concern the coaching staff.
- When SC made a couple of shots away from the basket, the inside opened up and the team played looser. They were not too successful trying to pound the ball in to Big O and Nick almost exclusively in the early going.
- It appears that Coach Enfield has abandoned the lineup with all three bigs playing together. Instead they have been rotating Big O, Nick and Isaiah ( from the bench) into the game. They have played with two of them on the court almost all of the time except in situations where the opponent plays a very small and quick lineup.
- Nick continues to mix big games with games where he struggles. He rebounded and played solid interior defense on Thursday, but could not convert several inside opportunities. The Trojans are a much different team when Nick plays well alongside with Big O, who has been more consistent.
The Trojans’ preferred formula has become apparent. First, they want to dominate inside offensively, on defense and on the boards. Second, they want to play a tough switching man defense outside, allowing as few uncontested shots as possible. Third, limit turnovers. They had only 10 in the Fairfield game. And finally, make enough from beyond 15-20 feet so that the defense has to defend SC on the perimeter and can’t sag inside too much.
Given SC’s personnel, this is a sound strategy. The three bigs are scoring, rebounding and defending effectively, though they can be more consistent. The defense has generally been good, and the turnover numbers per game are coming down. There are at least six legitimate outside shooting threats–Jonah, Elijah, Quinton, Daniel Utomi, Max Agbonkpolo, and Chuck O’Bannon can all make threes, and the staff has confidence in them. But more consistent production from this group from the perimeter is needed. Jonah and Elijah combined from 5-8 from three against Fairfield, but the rest of the team missed their four threes, including one miss from Elijah who is capable of making them.
The Trojans can beat Marquette on Friday, but they will need to come out with a lot more energy and focus, and play a full 40 minutes. More than six players will need to score, and most of the players will need to up their games.