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Undefeated USC surges to beat Long Beach State with Lincoln Riley in the house

USC forward Isaiah Mobley drives to the basket against Long Beach State forward Jordan Roberts.
USC forward Isaiah Mobley drives to the basket against Long Beach State forward Jordan Roberts during the Trojans’ 73-62 win at the Galen Center on Sunday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

With a few minutes left in the first half of USC’s Sunday contest against Long Beach State, fans at the Galen Center started to roar louder during a timeout than at any point in the game.

The reason, clad in a muted grey jacket and sweats, was Lincoln Riley. The newly hired football coach assumed a microphone at midcourt in a brief welcome-to-L.A. moment.

“We came here for one reason, and that’s to win a championship at USC,” Riley said to a hero’s welcome of cheers.

Sitting courtside, Riley got a long look at another USC program with championship aspirations, as the Trojans men’s basketball team won 73-62 to improve to 10-0.

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“USC athletics is really on the up and up, so it’s awesome to have him here,” senior guard Drew Peterson said of Riley’s appearance.

USC football coach Lincoln Riley and USC fan Tyler Grinch throw T-shirts to fans attending Sunday's game.
USC football coach Lincoln Riley and USC fan Tyler Grinch throw T-shirts to fans attending Sunday’s game between the Trojans and Long Beach State at the Galen Center.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

USC looked out of sync at times in the first half, the No. 16 Trojans dragging their feet en route to a 38-38 tie at the break. A vaunted defense that held opponents to less than 40% shooting in every game this season looked porous, committing silly fouls and surrendering easy layups.

Meanwhile, the team’s season-high 18 turnovers in Tuesday’s win over Eastern Kentucky carried over, as the Trojans lost the ball nine times in the first half. On his 21st birthday, third-leading scorer Boogie Ellis started 0 for 4 from the floor after missing all 10 of his shots against Eastern Kentucky. It wasn’t pretty.

But good teams adjust. After Long Beach State (3-7) slowed USC with a full-court press and pesky zone in the first half, the Trojans came out of the locker room with better ball movement and strength on the interior.

“We made our point at halftime with the coaching staff,” coach Andy Enfield said with a dry smile, “and we moved on.”

USC forward Chevez Goodwin (1) grabs an offensive rebound in front of Long Beach State's Aboubacar Traore
USC forward Chevez Goodwin grabs an offensive rebound over Long Beach State’s Aboubacar Traore during Sunday’s game.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Isaiah Mobley took matters into his own hands, keying a 14-0 run to open the second half. The versatile forward made a three-point shot and then let out a yell after finishing a layup while being fouled.. Mobley, who has emerged as USC’s leading scorer, collected his fourth double-double in his last five games with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

Peterson said USC came out slow in the first half on the defensive end. With the Trojans rising in the national rankings, they didn’t want to start back at square one with a loss, he said.

“We knew we had to lock down — no messing around anymore,” Peterson said.

Lincoln Riley’s path to USC was forged in Muleshoe, Texas, where the locals say Riley could’ve been anything he wanted — but puzzle ‘Why L.A.?’

USC didn’t allow a point through the first 6½ minutes of the second half. Ellis made only two of eight shots but got three steals and his three-point basket with two minutes left gave USC a 13-point lead.

Perhaps the most impressive performance came from Peterson, who had 12 points in the first half. He showed his shot-making prowess with a twisting turnaround jumper, a fadeaway at the end of the shot clock and a double-clutch three at the halftime buzzer.

USC guard Boogie Ellis (0) grabs a rebound in front of Long Beach State forward Jordan Roberts during Sunday's game.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

USC will host UC Irvine (5-2) on Wednesday. It figures to be one of the toughest tests the Trojans have facedthus far, as the Anteaters rank second in the nation in opponents’ field-goal percentage (34.5%). USC began play Sunday third in that category (34.9).

The Trojans haven’t looked fazed by any opponent so far and are playing with extreme confidence in their quest for another deep run in the NCAA tournament. There’s plenty to clean up — Enfield and Peterson pointed to rebounding and turnovers. But the group is excited.

“You can’t be too upset if you haven’t lost yet,” Enfield said.

Isaiah Mobley scored 23 points as No. 16 USC remained undefeated with a 80-68 win over Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday at Galen Center.


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