Former CIF City Section Player of the Year and USC freshman point guard Ethan Anderson brought the ball up the floor in the Trojans’ preseason exhibition clash with Villanova. After a Villanova turnover, USC leading 52-49, Anderson crossed over and hit a jumper to force a timeout.
Anderson and the Trojans stole momentum as the second period wore down and never looked back, downing Villanova by double digits, 72-61.
Akron graduate transfer and USC guard Daniel Utomi finished as USC’s high-scorer, posting 15 points in 23 minutes. Utomi shot 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Trojans freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu also scored 15, along with 10 rebounds.
Anderson hit all three of his field goal attempts to finish with 9 points, doing so in 18 minutes.
“He wasn’t afraid of the moment, that’s for sure,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said of Anderson’s performance. When asked about Anderson’s energy off the bench, Trojans senior shooting guard Jonah Matthews said, “I’d just say he’s different.”
Villanova freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl poured in a team-high 20 points. He also grabbed nine rebounds. Wildcats sophomore forward Saddiq Bey added 16 points and seven rebounds.
Villanova played without leading scorer Collin Gillespie, who broke his nose in practice last week.
USC freshman forward Isaiah Mobley splashed a 3-pointer to put the Trojans ahead by nine with just over five minutes remaining. Bey responded with a 3-pointer, forcing a USC timeout. Bey hurt the Trojans from beyond the arc the entire game, shooting over 57%.
Anderson dunked one of his first touches, slicing down the left lane and launching off two feet after jab stepping the defender off balance to create space. Trojans senior forward Nick Rakocevic turned the ball over three times in the first half.
Utomi nailed his first four 3-pointers and led all first-half scorers with 12 points. Villanova sophomore forward Saddiq Bey posted 10 points.
Trojans sophomore point guard Elijah Weaver added eight points, but the USC offense entered halftime with 11 turnovers. Villanova grabbed seven first-period offensive rebounds to USC’s two. Nearly everywhere else on the stat sheet, USC edged Villanova, including a 10-0 advantage in fastbreak points.
Friday night marked the first time since 2014 that USC hosted a pre-season exhibition. All proceeds from USC-Villanova benefited the California Fire Foundation, which provides emotional & financial assistance to families of fallen firefighters, current firefighters and their communities.
“I thought the game was certainly not a preseason scrimmage,” Enfield said. “I thought it was a terrific, early college basketball game. Even though it didn’t count on your record, you couldn’t tell that by how hard both teams were playing and also how exciting the arena was tonight.”
Over the past four seasons, USC’s 87 wins are good for the winningest four-year stretch in program history. Mobley, Okongwu and Anderson highlight a USC freshman class ranked No. 7 in the country by 247Sports.com.
“Tonight Ethan really stepped up in the second half, so I kept him in the game,” Enfield said. “In the second half, [Okongwu] was dominant for about a five or six minute stretch. Isaiah can go in-and-out of the perimeter.”
Enfield started Mobley at small forward, but the 6-foot-10 Murrieta-native also played minutes at power forward and center with Rakocevic and Okongwu on the bench.
Enfield said, “Anytime you have a 6-foot-10 guy that can play three positions, it’s pretty special.”
USC improves to 2-1 all-time against Villanova. The Trojans open the 2019-2020 season in less than one month, Nov. 5 at the Galen Center versus Florida A&M of the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference (MEAC).
All photos appear courtesy of Marcus Williams/TGSportsTV1
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.