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USC Suffers First Loss; What we learned about the Trojans

By Rich Ruben

USC fell to 5-1 on the season after a 70-61 home loss to the Temple Owls on Friday night. It was a game the Trojans could have and probably should have won. The smaller Owls came out more aggressively and with more intensity, and maintained that pace throughout the game. They used a full court press most of the night. The press didn’t create many turnovers, but the pressure forced the Trojans to use a good part of the shot clock before getting into their offense. SC never looked comfortable against the constant pressure.

Temple built a lead in the first half, but the Trojans went on a good run late in the half to take a 1 point lead. Temple had the ball for the last shot, and after a miss, Isaiah Mobley grabbed the rebound with 2 seconds remaining but he was stripped and the Owls made a shot at the buzzer for a 1 point halftime lead. Troy continued its run early in the second half, leading by as many as 9, but an 8 minute scoring drought in the middle of a 23-4 run by the Owls was too much to overcome. SC got to within 3 with a few minutes to play, but could not get over the hump. A few Trojan intentional fouls in the last minute and Temple made free throws resulted in the 9 point spread.

For the first time this season, the Trojans were outplayed inside. Onyeka Okongwu scored 17 points, mostly on dunks and shots at very close range, and also had 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. After three consecutive very good games and one conference player of the week honor, Nick Rakocevic was held to 6 points and 6 rebounds, and had only one made three and 3 points in the first 34 1/2 minutes. Isaiah Mobley also had 6 points and 6 boards.  It was not enough production from the three big men.

What We Learned About The Trojans

The Trojans Continue to Struggle to Shoot From Outside

The two most glaring Trojan early season weaknesses were apparent Friday night. First, the Trojan guards and wings entered the game shooting 34% from the field and 32% from three. The shooting woes continued. Jonah Mathews was 2-10, Max Agbonkpolo 0-2, and Quinton Adlesh 0-2. Elijah Weaver took only two shots and made his only three in a season low 14 minutes. Daniel Utomi shot 4-7 from the field, but only 1-4 from long range. Ethan Anderson had a nice scoring game, making 4-10 from the field including 2-3 from beyond the line and both of his free throws to finish with 12 points and 5 assists. But for the second straight game Ethan struggled with turnovers with 4, after being so good in limiting his TOs in the first four games. As a team, the Trojans were 6-22 ( 27%), from three, and 22-57 (38.6%) from the field.

Who is the Go To Scorer?

The second problem area is that the Trojans have not found anyone they can go to when they desperately need to score. Last year Bennie Boatwright was the guy, and the year before Jordan McLaughlin. They are still searching after the first six games this season. Big O and Nick both entered the game shooting over 60% from the field, but when they went to O late in the game he was aggressively double teamed and missed a couple of shots and was unable to get a shot a few other times and was forced to pass out of the double teams.

Poor Free Throw Shooting Was a Big Factor

Free throw shooting was a big problem. The Trojans were only 4-11 in the first half, and a few of the misses were the front end of 1 and 1s, meaning they left even more points at the line. For the game SC was 11-20, after shooting over 80% in their last game. They arguably won the Pepperdine game at the line and lost this one there.

Coach Enfield Couldn’t Find the Right Formula

After the game Andy was clearly frustrated and disappointed with the effort. He pointed to the 21 Temple points off Trojan turnovers and SC getting only 6 offensive rebounds. He said that should never happen with the Trojans’ strength and size. They were out rebounded by 4 for the game. He observed that there were “not a lot of positives from this game.” They tried to change things as the game went on, but never could match the Temple aggressiveness.

The Players Took This Loss Hard

A somber Daniel Utomi and a very reserved Jonah Mathews were made available to the media after the game. I asked them about the outside shooting problems, and Daniel simply said “the shots will drop”.  I also asked Jonah what Andy said to the team in the locker room. Andy told them they need to move on and put this game behind them.

Temple’s Defense Bothered SC

Jonah acknowledged that the full court pressure defense bothered the Trojans. From my perspective, Ethan was the only Trojan who wasn’t rattled. He played 30 minutes, and though he had turnover issues, he also moved the ball well and had a few highlight assists.

The Trojans Were Beat on the Boards

Both teams shot just under 39% from the field, but the Owls took ten more shots in the second half, after the two teams took the same amount in the first half. They also out rebounded the Trojans by 8 in the second half. 

Temple Took Care of the Ball

The Trojans had 14 turnovers for the game, right about their season average, but Temple had only 8, and SC only had 4 steals.

The Trojans Did Not Get Much Production From Several Players

No Trojan was outstanding, but Big O, Daniel and Ethan each had pretty good games, but everyone else struggled. Chuck O’Bannon and Kyle Sturdivant did not play. Assistant coach Eric Mobley said before the game that Max Agbonkpolo would start in place of Elijah Weaver for defensive purposes because Temple had one big wing. Max missed his only 2 shots, both from behind the line. He played 7 minutes in two stints on the floor in the first half, but didn’t play at all in the second half.

The Trojans Stayed Out Of Foul Trouble

For the second straight game, no one was in foul trouble. Temple did not get to the bonus in the first half, and only got there in the second half when the Trojans were forced to foul late in the game.

The Best Crowd of the Season

The lower level student section was almost filled to capacity, and the crowd was much bigger than in the prior home games. In their first four home games, the Trojans averaged about 2500 fans. It is too bad that SC had its worst game in front of the largest home crowd.

No More Mobleys

Before the game, Eric Mobley was asked if he had any more sons. He laughed and said unfortunately not. He was also asked if top 2020 recruit and younger son Evan considered signing anywhere else. Eric laughed again and said they live in the same house, and Evan knew better.

And-One

Before the season, I broke the schedule down into five parts – the first half of the non conference season, the second half, the first and second halves of the conference season, and the Pac 12 Tournament. The first part of the season ended with a 5-1 record; not bad, but it was also clearly the easiest part of the schedule. Now the Trojans are off to the Orlando Invitational, where they could face 20th ranked Marquette in the second game and possibly 6th ranked Maryland in the third. They also play a ranked LSU team at Staples next month and travel to tough TCU in two weeks. Come NCAA tournament selection time, they may look back with dismay at the home loss to Temple. It will be interesting to see how the Trojan freshmen bounce back from their first loss, and would be nice if the Trojans can find a way to come back from Orlando with at least two wins, regardless of who they play.