LOS ANGELES (AP)No fans, coaches talking to players through masks, and a pesky opponent that refused to go away in regulation. It all added up to quite a college debut for highly recruited Evan Mobley.
He had 21 points and nine rebounds, helping Southern California defeat Cal Baptist 95-87 in overtime on Wednesday night in the teams’ season opener.
”It felt pretty weird, but overall I feel like we played pretty good as a team,” Mobley said. ”A lot of my teammates got me the ball in the right spots. On the kickouts, they hit their shots. I’m pretty glad with the performance.”
Tahj Eaddy, a graduate transfer from Santa Clara, added 18 points for the Trojans (1-0), who had all five starters in double figures. Mobley’s older brother, Isaiah, added 14 points and 10 rebounds reuniting with his sibling for the first time since high school.
Cal Baptist’s Ty Rowell, who missed most of last season due to injury, had career highs of 32 points and nine 3-pointers. Mark Carbone added 15 points. Starters Gorjok Gak (13 points, 8 rebounds) and Reed Nottage (nine points) each fouled out. The Lancers made a school-record 20 3-pointers.
”They had a terrific system,” USC guard Ethan Anderson said. ”They were setting backscreens, flares, really keeping us on our toes. We had too many defensive slipups leaving too many shooters open. They made a lot of tough shots.”
The Trojans fell behind by five under a barrage of 3-pointers by the Lancers (0-1) before Eaddy’s 3-pointer tied it 79-all, sending the game into overtime.
USC dominated the extra session, outscoring the Lancers 16-8. Evan Mobley had a couple highlight plays: hitting a hook shot and dunking off a teammate’s missed free throw. Mobley and Anderson combined to score 10 in a row.
”Our defense really stepped up in overtime,” Anderson said.
Evan Mobley began the game by tapping the ball out of bounds on the opening tip. The 7-foot forward who is expected to be a one-and-done player did just about everything else right.
Coaches sometimes pulled their masks down to shout instructions to players on the court and to those on the benches located on the baselines adjacent to where the coaching staffs sat.
”Definitely a few plays had to be repeated several times because I couldn’t hear them through their masks,” Anderson said.
Without cheering fans, players were easily heard yelling to each other when blaring music wasn’t echoing throughout Galen Center.
”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 other teams’ advantage.”
After falling behind by eight in the second half, the Lancers rallied to take a 75-70 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Rowell and Carbone. Another trey by Rowell kept them ahead by five before Anderson made two free throws and Eaddy’s 3-pointer forced overtime.
”Every time we got a five-, seven-, nine-point lead, we either missed free throws or they made a tough shot. We just couldn’t pull away,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. ”When you do that you let a team hang around and get confident.”
The Trojans built their largest lead of the first half at 31-22. The Lancers outscored USC 17-8, hitting half of their 10 3-pointers in the run that left them tied 39-all at halftime. Rowell hit three 3-pointers, including back-to-back treys to end the half.
BIG PICTURE: The Lancers have 11 new players on their roster this season, including seven foreign-born, which is tied for third-most in the NCAA. They went 21-10 last season, the school’s first 20-plus win season since joining Division I before the 2018-19 season. The Trojans have high expectations and all eyes will be on Evan Mobley’s development throughout the season. He’s already being talked up as a high pick in next year’s NBA draft.
HE SAID IT
”We’re just happy to be able to play. If wearing a face mask is the worst thing, we’ll take it.” – Enfield
Cal Baptist: Hosts Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 2 in the first of four straight home games.
USC: Hosts Montana on Saturday before hitting the road to play two games in Bubbleville at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
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