On a night of introductions, the five-star freshmen expected to star for USC basketball this season nearly forgot to introduce themselves.
Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley came into Friday night’s season-opening exhibition against Villanova carrying high hopes of keying a turnaround for a Trojans team that finished 16-17 last season. But in their much-anticipated Galen Center debuts, both freshmen took a while to find their footing.
By halftime, they’d barely touched the ball, with just one point and five rebounds combined, as the Trojans’ offense struggled.
But as USC came alive in the second half, jump-starting its offense on the way to a 72-61 victory over the Wildcats, it was Okongwu and Mobley who quietly keyed the run.
Okongwu, who carried the scoring load for USC during its summer trip to Europe, impressed down the stretch with his work around the basket, vacuuming up loose balls and taking advantage of second-chance opportunities.
He finished with a double-double in his USC debut, scoring 15 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
Mobley, who finished with eight points, was scoreless until midway through the second half. But he scored five in a row soon after.
“There’s a lot of improvement in both of those young men,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “They’re going to get better and better going forward.”
The Trojans turned the ball over 11 times in the first half and struggled to work inside.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot in that first half,” Enfield said.
But USC was kept alive by another newcomer as the rest of the offense stalled. Daniel Utomi, a sharp-shooting graduate transfer from Akron, came out blazing in the first half, drilling his first four three-pointers. He finished with a team-high 15 points, including five of USC’s seven three-pointers.
In the second half, Okongwu and Mobley weren’t the only freshmen who turned heads. Point guard Ethan Anderson had a standout debut, running the second-team offense smoothly while scoring nine points and collecting five assists.