After Evan Mobley walked back onto the field, after a blocked shot to the edge and a go-ahead baby hook in overtime, his face was blank.
In his scintillating collegiate debut, the loudest sound the acclaimed USC freshmen heard in a Galen center that was empty due to concerns about COVID-19 was the couch of a Cal Baptist visit.
The # 2 player in the 2020 recruiting class scored 21 points and took nine rebounds in a 95-87 win over the Lancers, but the team that still transitioned to Division I showed many cracks in what could be an NCAA Tournament team .
“I felt like we could have played a little better,” said Mobley, a preseason candidate for multiple National Player of the Year awards who shot 10 for 15 and added three assists and three blocks to get a impressive last line. .
Cal Baptist – who joined Division I for the 2018/19 season but will not be eligible for the NCAA tournament for the next two years – has 11 new players (seven foreign-born) and returns just three with experience. The Lancers played an energetic, focused game, firing 48.8% from outside the 3-point arc (20 for 41) to stagger a USC team used to doing that in front of its own opponents.
“That’s the highest number we’ve ever listed,” said USC head coach Andy Enfield, who added seven off-season newcomers, losing five seniors and a lottery pick.
Facing red-hot Lancers guard Ty Rowell (a career-high 32 points on 11-of-21 shooting), and without 88.5% of his 3-point score from last season, it was USC’s height – an energetic Mobley in particular the rim – that proved the difference.
Both teams struggled to find an early pace with coronavirus protocols ruling out pre-season scrimmages, but Mobley – a likely NBA lottery pick – was as good as advertised in the opening spot. Scoring on all three levels, Mobley dominated the glass on both sides, flashing a superior basketball IQ in the two-man game with older brother Isaiah Mobley (14 points, 10 rebounds).
The younger Mobley counted seven of the USC’s first 14 points, but the Lancers held on to the defense and the Trojans couldn’t get them to pay from outside the arc, going 5 for 19 off the arc during regulation.
Cal Baptist, however, was able to create open 3-point looks in the transition, knocking down 10 before half time – led by five from Rowell – to clear a nine-point USC lead and enter the locker room with a draw of 39.
A thunderous dunk from Evan Mobley covered a 9-2 USC run to open the second half, as Evan and Isaiah put down six rebounds (four on offense) together in the first four minutes.
However, the Lancers kept firing from a long distance, so they spread the floor for quick-trigger guard Mark Carbone (15 points, 5 for 6 from 3-point range) and Rowell, who gave CBU its first lead in 29 minutes with a 3-hand at 5 minutes.
“Every time we got a five, seven, nine point lead, we missed free throws or made a difficult shot. We just couldn’t drive away, ”Enfield said. “When you do that, you let a team hang out and you gain confidence.”
However, a Lancers shot clock violation set up USC’s Tahj Eaddy for a 3-pointer that tied the score at 79-all with 45.9 seconds to go, putting the game in extra innings.
In extra time, Evan Mobley knocked off the field 3 for 3, and his hit on Gorjok Gak, followed by his hookshot in the transition, led to a decisive 8-0 run.
“We went to him a lot offensively,” said Enfield of Evan Mobley. ‘He has made great plays. He learns like everyone else. He is a winner. ”
“It felt kind of weird, but overall I feel like we played quite well as a team,” said Evan Mobley. “Many of my teammates have given me the ball in the right place. They hit their shots at the kickouts. I am quite happy with the implementation. ”
Eaddy, a graduate transfer from Santa Clara, had 18 points ahead of the Trojans, who had all six players in double digits. Rice transfer Drew Peterson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds and ended the game with a one-handed dunk from a fast-break.
Rowell, who missed most of last season due to injury, finished with nine three-point baskets in his career. CBU starters Gorjok Gak (13 points, eight rebounds) and Reed Nottage (nine points) each got an error. The Lancers ’20 3-pointers is a program record.
“They had a great system,” said USC security guard Ethan Anderson. ‘They put up rear windows, flares, and really kept us on our toes. We had too many defensive slip ups leaving too many shooters open. They took a lot of difficult photos. ”
Coaches sometimes pulled their masks down to shout instructions to players on the field and to those on the benches on the baselines next to where the coaching staff sat.
“Certainly a few plays had to be repeated several times because I couldn’t hear them through their masks,” said Anderson.
With no cheering fans, players could easily be heard shouting at each other when blaring music was not echoing throughout the arena.
“Fans don’t get enough credit in terms of bringing the energy,” Anderson said. “We had to create our own energy. It worked to the advantage of the other teams. ”
Enfield said, “We’re just happy to be able to play. If wearing a face mask is worst, we’ll take it. ”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
We’ll be working overtime later @ 2Teazy‘s game-tying three 🎯
– USC Men’s Basketball (@USC_Hoops) November 26, 2020
Tahj Eaddy checks in after tying the score in his first appearance as a Trojan! pic.twitter.com/jYLePF1HTG
– USC Men’s Basketball (@USC_Hoops) November 26, 2020