By Rich Ruben
It wasn’t easy and the outcome was in doubt until the last seconds but the Trojans played very well in the last four minutes and completed a 72-66 comeback win in Stanford’s first home game in Maples Pavilion this season. Stanford shot the ball very well almost the entire game and finished 27-52 from the floor and 7-16 from three. The Trojans needed a 6-0 run to take a 62-61 lead on a fast break dunk by Max Agbonkpolo with a few minutes left. At the 2:18 mark the game was tied at 64. From that point Tahj Eaddy made a driving layup and a difficult fade away in the lane from 12 feet and Evan Mobley added a late dunk. The final six point margin was the largest lead for the Trojans in the entire game. The Trojans are now 14-3 on the season and 7-2 in conference play, a game behind UCLA, setting up a very big game against the Bruins at Galen on Saturday.
The Cardinal played without the three starters who have missed the last several games, and their star senior forward Oscar da Silva, who some are projecting to be the conference player of the year, only had 9 points as a result of two early fouls and very good interior Trojan defense which kept him away from his spots. With all of that in USC’s favor the Trojans still struggled and arguably won the game at the foul line, which is remarkable in itself.
“To shoot 50% against our defense hasn’t been done before (this season)”, USC head coach Andy Enfield said after the game.
The USC defense has been very good and consistent in almost every game but they struggled against the Cardinal. The Trojans had six early turnovers and the Cardinal made them pay. In the first twelve minutes Stanford made 11-17 shots including 4-5 from three while the Trojans were only 6-15 from the floor and missed all four of their three point attempts. The Trojans clawed their way back with a 6-0 run over the last 2:06 of the half and trailed only 35-32 at the break.
After intermission the Cardinal made six of their first nine shots and the Trojans only hung around because of Cardinal turnovers. As the half went on Stanford began missing and made only two threes in the second half. The Trojans also did a great job of keeping the Cardinal off the line as Stanford shot only eight foul shots.
This is a good road win for the Trojans. Beating a Stanford team on the road which has a NET ranking just outside the top 50 is a Q1 win and will help the Trojan own NET ranking. The Trojans are not blowing teams out but they’ve won 9-10 since restarting play after the Covid shutdown and have now started the final stretch of important conference games with a win.
Evan Was “Fantastic” And Tajh And Drew Peterson Played Key Roles
Evan has continued his aggressive play on offense and finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He made 8-13 shots and 7-7 from the line. Enfield said that Evan was fantastic on offense and has become a much better offensive player over the last two weeks. Evan played 38 minutes; Enfield could tell that he was tiring late in the game but there was no chance Evan would come out.
Enfield said that the Trojans had three scoring options late in the game.
“Tahj has been very solid and sometimes spectacular on offense all season,” Enfield said. “He doesn’t turn the ball over a lot and keeps calm and he kept up his defensive intensity tonight.”
Tahj scored 14 points and finished 7-13 from the floor though he missed all four of his threes. Enfield recognized that
“Tahj made some big plays down the stretch,” Enfield said.
For the first three quarters of the game Drew continued his recent struggles but he came alive late and finished with 15 points on only eight shots and made two of his three shots from beyond the arc. He also made one the biggest plays during the Trojans late surge when Evan found him open in the corner and Drew sunk the badly needed three. “Drew stepped up for a couple of big baskets….He played under control and drove the ball and made a couple of layups and a big wide open three. He also made late free throws.”
Did The Trojans Really Win The Game From The Line?
Last week at ASU the Cardinal made 31-34 from the free throw line. In this game the Trojans made 14-20 (70%) and the Cardinal only 5-8 (62.5%) and had only two free throws in the first half. Keeping Stanford off the line was a big part of the game plan. Evan has been very good from the line in the last few weeks, but some of his teammates still struggle. Isaiah Mobley was fouled on a three point attempt and missed all three of the free throws long and off the heel of the rim. Soon after Chevez Goodwin was fouled and missed the front end of a one and one.
USC Played A Better Second Half
Other than Evan and Tahj the rest of the team made only five first half baskets.
Drew and Isaiah Mobley missed easy layups. Enfield also noted that the Trojans didn’t score on a two on none and three on one fast break.
After seven first half turnovers the Trojans took better care of the ball and finished with only ten for the game, compared to Stanford’s fifteen. USC made sixteen shots in the second half after only eleven in the first half. They also blocked six shots. The Stanford turnovers and missed free throws along with the Trojan blocks were important in this win.
Enfield complimented Max’s play; he finished with only 5 points on 2-6 from the including 1-2 from three and missed a fast break dunk. But he also had 5 rebounds, the second most on team. “Max had a big steal and a couple of blocked shots in the last minutes…. Max played great defense especially in the last eight to ten minutes.” Enfield has talked about Max’s defense several times in the last few weeks and Max has been getting more playing time lately.
Without Three Starters And da Silva Held In Check, How Did Stanford Score?
Coming into this game the Trojans knew that the two players who could hurt them were all conference forward Oscar da Silva and fast rising 6’9” junior forward Jaiden Delaire, who has been playing very well. Da Silva was held to single digits and four boards but Delaire made 10-16 shots including 2-4 from three and led the Cardinal with 22 points.
The other Cardinal who has played well recently with more playing time is freshman point guard Michael O’Connell. He set a career high in the first half and finished 7-12 and 2-5 from three for 20 points. USC did a pretty good job of keeping everyone else in check. Still, if you knew before the game that Stanford would shoot 52% from the floor and make 7-16 from three, you probably would not expect a win. The Cardinal have been a very poor three point shooting team and the Trojans’ have won several games with their defense. This game was remarkable in how neither team played to form.
Enfield said their defensive plan against da Silva and center Lukas Kisunas was to make them shoot over the Trojan defenders and keep them from getting good position inside. That part of the defensive plan worked well. In the last several minutes Enfield changed the defense to stop the surprisingly good Cardinal outside game. They started switching all ball screens and were more aggressive challenging every shot.
Ethan Anderson And Noah Baumann Struggled
The Trojans didn’t get much from the bench. Ethan and Noah both struggled after playing well in the win over Oregon State last week. Fortunately Drew found his game and the Trojans had enough to win. There will be a game at some point where the Trojans will need most of the rotation to play well.
It doesn’t seem like the Trojans are playing great basketball and they are struggling to get wins. The same can be said of their next opponent. The Bruins have been pulling out close games all season. Their one conference loss was to Stanford on a final second inbound play. The Cardinal had the same group of players in that game as they had against USC.
The Cardinal double teamed all three big men when they got the ball inside of ten feet. Evan did a tremendous job in beating the double team and forcing fouls. In the last several games he has looked like the offensive super star we expected too see.
After the game Enfield was asked about Covid testing since two games against Stanford had been postponed. “We had a long film session regarding how to test for Covid and our guys did a good job. We also had back up plans since we knew Stanford wouldn’t do it for us.”
Finally, I’m not sure I have heard a bigger homer on a major network game than Casey Jacobson. Someone should start a petition to prohibit him from working Stanford games. Listening to him you might believe that Maples Pavilion is comparable to Allen Field House at Kansas or one of the other great college basketball venues. I’ve been to games at Maples and KU and to compare the two would be similar to comparing a high school football field with Jerry’s World in Arlington. As hard as it was to listen to Jacobs, however, it still beats listening to Bill Walton.