How sweet it is: Trojans back in Sweet 16

Trojan Basketball is back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2017. Last time out, USC fell short to Colorado in the final seconds of the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals. 

Andy Enfield and company took lessons away from their conference tournament experience and it translated into a six seed and 72-56 victory over 11th seeded Drake in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Men of Troy were led by the Mobley brothers on Saturday who contributed 17 and 15 points respectively playing a combined 60 minutes on the floor together. Evan added 11 boards and three blocks en route to knocking down 7 of his 15 field goal attempts on the day.

Older brother Isaiah knocked down 6 of his 7 field goals grabbing five boards on his own to make it a true family affair.

We both had great games, I feel like,” Evan Mobley said. Both pretty big numbers. We’re going to cherish this win, but we can’t dwell on it too long because we’ve got other games coming up.”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 20: USC Trojans vs Drake Bulldogs in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 20, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Role players Tahj Eaddy and Drew Petersen got in on the party themselves. Petersen added 14 points, while sharp-shooting Eaddy helped himself by dishing out ten assists on the day scoring nine points with 33 minutes played. 

USC struggled from the charity strike in the first half shooting a measly 33% from the line (3-9) while shooting 53% as a team. It seemed as if the Trojans’ struggles were coming to haunt them at the worst possible time on the biggest stage.

The Trojans had a hard time containing Drake’s Joseph Yesufu who scored 18 first-half points on 4-6 shooting from three-point land.

“We didn’t really lock up on [Yesufu] the entire possession,” freshman forward Evan Mobley said about his team’s early defensive struggles. 

The Trojans were getting outplayed and were taking contested jumpers. They outscored the Bulldogs by 16 points to end the half but were clinging to only a three-point lead at the break.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 20: USC Trojans vs Drake Bulldogs in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 20, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Halftime was what the Trojans needed to silence Yesufu and the Bulldogs who opened the second half on an 8-0 scoring run forcing Drake to take tightly contested shots while being locked down on defense. In part, this tired out the Bulldogs and allowed the Trojans to pull away.

“Our goal was to take their best player out of the game in the second half and make everything tough,” Head Coach Andy Enfield said of his halftime defensive adjustments. “We did a good job of switching man and zone and we made him work.”

The halftime adjustments worked as the Trojans held Drake to just 19 points and 19% shooting in the second period.

On to the round of 32, where the Trojans were set to duel with third-seeded Kansas out of the always dangerous Big 12. With a win, the Trojans would be headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007.

USC came out firing and never took their foot off the gas. The Trojans played a complete 40-minute game shooting close to 60% from the field in an 85-51 rout of the Jayhawks.

In the last two games, the men of Troy have held their opponents (Drake and Kansas) to 29% shooting.

On this night, the Trojans were led by Isaiah Mobley who put in 17 points on 6 of 14 shooting while also obtaining eight rebounds. Mobley pulled all sorts of tricks from his arsenal. The 6’10 forward is known for driving to the basket and getting key buckets inside. However, he showed off his three-point abilities making four of his five attempts from downtown.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 22: The Kansas Jayhawks take on the USC Trojans in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 22, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

“I don’t necessarily like to sit on the three always,” Isaiah Mobley said in the postgame press conference. “But if they’re giving them to me, I’m going to take them. I’ve been working on them, along with my free throws. As long as they keep giving me those opportunities, I’m going to keep taking them. Hopefully, they just keep falling.”

With a great win, also comes teamwork and the Trojans used everyone to cement their claim as a team to be reckoned with this March. USC’s bench outscored Kansas 28-18 while shooting a combined 11-13 from the field. They were led by Chevez Goodwin’s 10 points and nine from Ethan Anderson.

Andy Enfield, who was recently named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year realizes the important milestones he and his staff have built with this program.

“We have a lot of stability here because to build a program, we came in in the first two years, we were in last place in the Pac-12,” Enfield said. “Year one and two, we were dead last. We were 5-31 in the Pac-12. To see the work that Jason Hart and Chris Capko put in, and Kurtis Shultz, what they’ve done as a coaching staff, is just amazing.”

USC marches into the Sweet 16 to meet a familiar conference foe. The Trojans will battle the seventh seed Oregon Ducks, who are fresh off knocking down second seed Iowa. In the team’s last meeting, the men of Troy obliterated the Ducks in the only meeting of the regular season, although Oregon came out on top as the regular season conference champion.

The teams are set to duel Sunday night in primetime at Bankers Life Fieldhouse at 6:45 p.m.

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