By Rich Ruben
The Trojans defeated Washington 62-56 in what Coach Enfield said was an “extremely important game.” And they did it shorthanded.
USC was without true freshman Onyeka Okongwu , the Trojans’ leading scorer and rebounder and the team’s rim protector, who is in concussion protocol. Kyle Sturdivant is home in Georgia with his family after the death of his father. And Ethan Anderson left the game with what head coach Andy Enfield called a hyperextended knee, and did not return. That left Troy with only seven scholarship players down the stretch and they were up against a Washington team that demolished the Trojans in Seattle in the opening weekend of conference play, when they held SC to 20% shooting from the field.
Somehow SC found a way to win against the much bigger Huskies. Isaiah Mobley started in place of Big O and played his best game of the season. He was matched against the Huskies’ five star freshman Isaiah Stewart most of the night, and more than held his own. One of the Trojan guards, usually Jonah Mathews, fronted Stewart most of the game and either Isaiah or Nick Rakosevic played behind Stewart; they limited him to only nine shots and 13 points. Stewart is the Huskies’ leading scorer and rebounder, and like O, he is their major inside defensive presence. Isaiah played more physically on defense than at any other time this season against the bigger Stewart, and also made 4-of-7 shots and totaled 10 points, six rebounds and four assists in his most extended time on the court.
Nick was the star for the Trojans, making 9-of-17 shots for 19 points and grabbing nine boards, dishing out four assists and getting three steals. His roommate Jonah finished with 16 points and made 4-of-10 from three and finished with 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Down the stretch Jonah scored eight straight points when the Trojans needed someone to step up.
The Huskies are a very big team. They have eight players 6’9” or taller, and are physically very imposing. They also may be the most underachieving team in the conference in several years. The loss leaves them in last place with only two conference wins, which seems impossible given their size and talent.
The Trojans shot only 27% from the field and trailed 30-25 at the half and seemed fortunate to be that close. Andy said after the game that “at halftime, we told the players that they need to win the game on the defensive end.” And that’s what happened. They limited the Huskies to under 26% from the field in the second half and out rebounded Washington by five for the game. As they have many times this year, the Trojans shot much better in the second half, making over 44% of their shots.
The smaller Trojans grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to only eight for UW, only turned the ball over six times in the entire game, and had 18 assists on 24 made baskets. With a limited rotation, Andy was forced to improvise at times. For stretches of the game, Jonah was guarding the 6’9” freshman sensation Jayden McDaniels. McDaniels carried the Huskies in the first half with 17 points, but was limited to only two free throws after halftime. With the limited rotation, Isaiah played over 33 minutes. Nick was in late foul trouble but still played 36 minutes and Jonah played almost 37 1/2 minutes.
Both Stewart and McDaniels are expected to be first round draft choices this spring after their freshman season, yet SC controlled them enough to win. The 18-7 Trojans (7-5 in league play) await the WSU Cougars on Saturday, without knowing whether O, Ethan or Kyle will be available. Ethan was limping after the game and had a sleeve on his knee.
At halftime there was a ceremony to retire DeMar DeRozan’s No. 10 jersey. Also on hand over this NBA All Star weekend were Kevin Porter Jr, Chimezie Metu, and Bennie Boatwright. They all gave hugs to former teammates Nick and Jonah after the game, and the five posed for pictures.
SC opened the second half scoring the first seven points to take a 32-30 lead with just over 17 minutes left. The game was back and forth for much of the half, until about seven minutes were left and the Trojans grabbed the lead for good. Nick was called for his fourth foul on a horrible blocking call with 4 1/2 minutes left and the Trojans up by eight. This could have been a turning point, but the SC defense held up, allowing Nick to go in and out over the final three minutes. The Trojans missed several free throws in the last few minutes, which allowed Washington to maintain hope, but the Huskies could not make enough shots to get closer than four. SC was 8-of-13 from the line, with most of the misses late and two on the front end of late one-and-ones.
Short-handed or not, this was a must win for the Trojans. Saturday’s game is the same; the Trojans need to win most of their games down the stretch, and can not afford a loss to a team in the second half of the conference standings. This win ended a three-game losing streak, the first time SC lost even two in a row this season.
What We Learned About The Trojans
– Before the game Andy said that they also expected D’Anthony Melton and Jordan MacLaughlin, but I didn’t see either of them. Clayton Olivier, Desmond Farmer, and Chris Penrose were in attendance; the three of them are regulars at home games. New cornerback coach Donte Williams was also present, as was Demarcus Cousins.
– For reasons I don’t understand, the Huskies didn’t try to force the ball inside very often, where they had a size advantage and could try to force Nick and Isaiah into fouls Instead, UW jacked up 30 threes out of 60 total shots. And it wasn’t as if they were connecting; they made only 8-30 from behind the arc, under 28%.
– Andy said that they played the game for Kyle. “Kyle is a wonderful young man and a hard worker.”
– Andy attributed the decrease in TOs from 24 against ASU to six in this game to simply playing better basketball. “Most of the turnovers (against ASU) were self inflicted and preventable.” He said that more were caused by the Trojans’ poor play than the Devils’ defense.
– Due to limited numbers, Max and Quinton were on the court together before the middle of the first half, a first this season. Nick said after the game that “Max did a phenomenal job and gave us a spark.” In his most extended playing time so far, Max was only 2-of-8 from the floor, but both of his baskets were threes. He also had three rebounds and two assists, and did a pretty good job on defense.
– Andy said that they ran a couple of plays late in the game for Jonah, and he came through with big shots.
– SC handled a pressure defense much better in this game. The Huskies are not as quick as they are big, and they didn’t press. Instead, they tried to trap the ball when it crossed mid court, particularly if the ball was near a sideline. But the Trojans handled the traps very well.
– Andy said he was not surprised that the Trojans did well on the offensive boards. He said that the zone Washington plays makes it hard to block out.
– Andy said that “Isaiah played great. He was fighting Stewart the entire game, and Stewart never takes a play off.”
– The lower student section was completely full, undoubtedly due in part to DeMar’s No. 10 jerseys being handed out to students. At half time over a third of the students left.
– Nick said that DeMar came into the locker room after the game and he was joking around with the players. Nick also said that “it is always amazing seeing former teammates again.”
– Nick said that it is “all about having patience in attacking a zone.” UW plays at a slower pace than the Trojans would prefer, but SC played with poise on offense.
– Jonah said that his teammates were looking for him late. “We’re the seniors, and need to bring it every night.” He also said that UW struggles if Stewart’s shots are limited, and the game plan was to make it hard for Stewart to get shots.
– UW coach Mike Hopkins was the lead assistant at Syracuse when the Trojans were looking for a head coach seven years ago. Pat Haden interviewed Hopkins, and the story at the time was that Hopkins was Haden’s second choice after Andy. At least on this night there was no doubt who did the better coaching job.
Andy recruited DeMar when he was an assistant at Florida State. DeMar said before the game that Florida State was probably his second choice. There are now two retired number 10 jerseys in Galen; Gus Williams also wore number 10. Several people were talking before the game about whether DeMar’s jersey should be retired. He only played one season at SC. He averaged 13.9 points, which is the fifth most by any Trojan freshman, and made the third most field goals. Maybe more importantly, he was the MVP of the conference tournament in 2009, the only year the Trojans have won the tourney. DeMar, Taj Gibson, Daniel Hackett, and Dwight Lewis won a thriller over the James Harden led Sun Devils 66-63. That Trojan team lost to Michigan State by five in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, when the Trojans didn’t have enough size to fend off the Spartans.
DeMar was the ninth pick in the NBA draft and has scored more points in the NBA than any other Trojan. He has been an All Star several times and won a gold medal at the Olympics. His jersey was retired more for what he did after he left Troy than his accomplishments in his one season. If DeMar’s jersey is retired, one could ask whether OJ Mayo’s should be retired? After the season ends, I’ll suggest what I think should be the criteria to retire a basketball jersey.