March 9, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Tahj Eaddy takes control for USC in win over Washington State

Before Tahj Eaddy became the Trojans’ de facto point guard in early December, he hadn’t intended on having the reins of USC’s offense to himself. That role was instead thrust upon him six weeks earlier, when the graduate transfer was forced to fill in for an injured Ethan Anderson, dutifully stepping into the position of ball-handling, floor-spacing creator, a role few others on the roster could fill.

Eaddy proved to be a steadying hand over those eight games, ahead of Anderson’s return this week. But with the injured point guard still playing sparingly with a sore back, Eaddy took the reins again Saturday, leading USC to an 85-77 victory over Washington State in which it never trailed at Galen Center.

It nearly gave away that lead late, anyway, as the Cougars clawed back to within four points with just three minutes remaining. That’s when Eaddy caught a pass on the perimeter, pump faked to lose his defender, and sank a smooth jumper to put a stamp on the Trojans’ sixth straight victory.

Key plays from USC’s 85-77 victory over Washington State on Saturday night at Galen Center.

It was the kind of play that underscored just how important Eaddy has become to USC’s offense, something abundantly clear as Eaddy finished with a season-high 21 points on eight-for-13 shooting.

“He played outstanding basketball tonight,” USC coach Andy Enfield said.

He didn’t do it alone. As Eaddy faded in the second half, following a 14-point outburst in the first, it was another transfer guard, Drew Peterson, who kept the Cougars at bay.

Peterson scored 11 points in the second half to finish with 15, while reeling in 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.

USC guard Drew Peterson drives to the basket to score against Washington State in the first half Saturday.

(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

“This is such a deep team,” Peterson said. “Anyone can step up at any given moment. It just depends on what the defense is giving us, and me and Tahj were able to create today.”

The two guards took over on a night when USC’s sibling towers were at times neutralized. Fresh off a career high in points on Thursday, Isaiah Mobley scored just seven against the Cougars but added a crucial low-post bucket late in the game.

That comeback began with Evan Mobley, the Trojans’ leading scorer, on the bench with four fouls. With its guards making plays on the perimeter, it would seem to have been an ideal night for Mobley to dominate. He still finished with 16 points but he reeled in three rebounds, his lowest total this season, while Washington State big man Efe Abogidi tallied 12 boards.

The Trojans’ star freshman would return to the floor just as the Cougars (9-4, 2-4 Pac-12) began mounting a 14-3 run that would be their final stand. With Washington State threatening to cut the lead even further, Mobley swatted away a floater, giving way to Eaddy’s ice-cold jumper on the other end.

USC (11-2, 5-1 Pac-12) would hold with crucial plays like that from its playmakers.

The Cougars shot nearly 54% from the field after the half, with guard Isaac Bonton leading both teams with 27 points.

“When they did make a couple of those tough shots, we were able to come down and put points up on the other end,” Enfield said. “If you can’t stop the other team, you better score with them.”

The six-game win streak is an encouraging start to the Pac-12 slate for a team predicted to finish sixth in the conference. But USC found itself in a strikingly similar position last season, entering the difficult portion of its schedule at 4-1, and dropped four of its next six.

On Saturday, it avoided such a slip-up.

“We finished strong,” Enfield said. “This team has finished strong in many games this season. The two games we lost, we didn’t finish.”