Men’s basketball resumes season with a victory over Santa Clara

Sophomore forward Isaiah Mobley had a strong scoring game with 13 points in the win against SCU. (Photo courtesy of John McGillen / USC Athletics)

Halfway through the first half against Santa Clara Tuesday night, USC associate head coach Jason Hart yelled to his team “run the offense with pace, with pace.”  

And that’s exactly what the Trojans did to cruise to a 86-63 victory at Galen Center. 

The Trojans jumped on the Broncos early and never looked back — they held the lead for just over 39 minutes. Prompted by a consistent offense and dominant defensive performance, USC flexed its muscles throughout. 

Since USC’s previously scheduled opponent, Loyola Marymount, was unable to play due to coronavirus cases, the Trojans had limited time to prepare for SCU. Despite that and a three-week gap since USC’s last game, the program’s longest break since the 1967 season, the team looked like it never missed a second. 

Sophomore forward Isaiah Mobley cited excitement and attention to detail for the team’s lack of rust coming out. 

“As a team, we’ve just been anxious to play because it’s been too long,” he said in a virtual press conference after the game. “So I think just the excitement took over as an energy and allowed us to stay focused and to stay sharp.”

The Trojans had a collective offensive effort with four players reaching double figures. Freshman forward Evan Mobley led USC with an efficient 17 points on seven shots. Former Santa Clara guard redshirt senior Tahj Eaddy and Isaiah Mobley tied for second with 13. 

The Mobleys and redshirt senior forward Chevez Goodwin combined for 40 points and 19 rebounds against a strong Santa Clara frontcourt. All three were excellent contributors for the Trojans throughout the game.

“I was impressed with all three of our guys,” Enfield said. “Our front line did an outstanding job because Santa Clara’s bigs are very good players.”

The story of the game, however, was USC’s defense. Santa Clara came into the game averaging 67.9 points per game with a turnover margin of +1.7 but struggled to find baskets Tuesday. 

The Trojans made the Broncos feel like Angelenos when it rains — uncomfortable. They held Santa Clara to 38% shooting and forced 18 turnovers. The suffocating pressure of the guards led to seven steals and the towering Mobleys combed for five of the team’s six blocks.

USC’s defensive prowess was evident early in the first half. After three minutes, USC went on a 16-4 run over five minutes to break the tie. During this span, Santa Clara had more turnovers than field goals.

After such a long lay-off and the short time to prepare for the Broncos, head coach Andy Enfield was impressed by the overall defensive effort.

“We’re a good defensive team, it was just difficult because we only had one day to prepare for this game,” he said. “But because we’ve instilled the principles through practice, I thought our guys really gave effort and they followed our defensive principles most of the night … for the most part, it was impressive. ”

Isaiah Mobley established himself early on, scoring in double figures for the third time this season. He said the three-week break allowed him to work more on his skills during individual workouts. It also gave him a greater appreciation for the game.

“When I came out today, I tried to have energy and assert myself and try to kinda get myself going,” he said. “Seeing the ball go through the net boosted my confidence and allowed me to keep it going throughout the game.”

The Trojans will most likely be without sophomore guard Ethan Anderson once again on Thursday. Enfield said he is “day-to-day” with a “slight back issue,” but his condition has improved.

Sophomore forward Drake London has also decided he will not be playing this year and will instead focus on football, according to Enfield. 

“It was great to have him join us last year and watching him on the football field, I think he made the right decision,” Enfield said. “He’s an All-Pac-12 receiver and it’s a lot of fun to watch him.”

USC will face Colorado in the Pac-12 opener Thursday at Galen Center.