October 25, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

USC finds a way late to beat Stanford

The star freshman was running on fumes. The shots weren’t falling from long range. The Pac-12’s best defense hadn’t lived up to its high billing against an offense missing three starters.

All game long, Stanford had kept USC at arm’s length, shooting 50% from the field, swiftly thwarting any serious sniff at a comeback. But the Trojans stuck around nonetheless, dragged along by another double-double from Evan Mobley, their offense grinding away until the Cardinal went cold and the score was tied with 1:18 left.

That’s when Tahj Eaddy, the one consistent beacon of offense in the Trojans backcourt this season, caught an inbounds pass far away from the basket, calmly walked the ball up the court, and coolly hit a go-ahead floater. One possession later, he dealt the dagger on a stepback in the lane, leading USC to an unlikely 72-66 victory at Stanford in a game where very little seemed to go right.

USC crawled back from a double-digit deficit in spite of an offense that hit under 24% from long range. It stuck it out with minimal help from its bench, which scored just 10 after pouring in a season-high 31 last week. At the start of a crucial month that so often confounded USC teams under Andy Enfield, the Trojans trudged their way to a Quad I road win, in spite of it all.

“We had our hands full,” said Enfield, whose February record at USC sits at 19-36. “Stanford was playing very, very well. Those last three or four minutes, I thought our defense really stepped up.”

That buckling down nearly came too late. But as USC (14-3 overall, 8-2 Pac-12) switched off ball screens through its entire lineup, using its length to its advantage in its final push, Stanford’s offense slowed, just as Eaddy heated up.

“Tahj has been very solid and sometimes spectacular on offense throughout this season,” Enfield said. “Tonight he kept his calm. Even though we had some rough moments throughout the game, he kept the defensive intensity up.”

As Eaddy took over in the final few minutes, Mobley was finally able to catch his breath. The 7-foot freshman carried USC on his back for much of Tuesday night, fighting through double teams and raking in rebounds while the Trojans perimeter shooters struggled to find a rhythm. Mobley, who played 38 minutes, finished with 23 points on eight-for-13 shooting and 11 rebounds in one of his best — and probably most tiring — all-around performances of the season.

Mobley didn’t have to deal much with Pac-12 leading scorer Oscar da Silva, who got into early foul trouble and finished with just nine points.

But after an emphatic slam from Mobley tied the score at 55 with seven minutes remaining, the Trojans supporting cast came alive. Drew Peterson scored five in a row, cutting the deficit back to one. Sophomore Max Agbonkpolo jumped in front of a pass for a key breakaway dunk to take the lead back. And then Eaddy took over, as he’s been known to do in the biggest moments this season.

USC will need him — and the rest of its offense — to rise to that level Saturday, when rival UCLA comes to the Galen Center with the conference lead on the line in its most difficult test of the season thus far.

USC was originally slated to open Pac-12 play against Stanford on Dec. 13. But a positive coronavirus test before the game forced the program into a two-week pause instead.