Isaiah Mobley heats up late to spur No. 5 USC to win over Oregon State

USC guard Boogie Ellis is fouled by Oregon State Beavers guard Dashawn Davis as he drives to the basket.
USC guard Boogie Ellis, center, is fouled by Oregon State Beavers guard Dashawn Davis as he drives to the basket during the first half of the Trojans’ 81-71 win Thursday at the Galen Center.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Returning home was supposed to offer a welcomed respite, a soft, familiar landing spot for USC to pick itself up after falling flat in its first loss of the season.

Instead, the Trojans came home to a cold, empty arena and a cold, lifeless offense. After its undefeated start unraveled in Palo Alto, USC returned to the same issues against Oregon State that plagued its loss to Stanford, raising questions of whether the Trojans were bound for a bounce-back performance or set to slip even further from the pedestal they’d built over the season’s first two months.

The answer arrived just in the nick of time for an 81-71 victory on Thursday, as Isaiah Mobley maneuvered deftly through a packed lane with three minutes remaining and his back to the hoop, spinning through Beavers defenders on back-to-back-to-back possessions and stringing together three straight scores, finally giving USC the breathing room it needed.


While USC has come out of its COVID-19 hiatus with its first top-five win since 2014, UCLA is struggling to get back up to speed after a four-week break.

USC’s leading scorer had been quiet all throughout the Trojans’ narrow, comeback victory, shooting just one of seven and scoring just seven points until the final three minutes. He was bruised and bloodied by an Oregon State frontcourt that was determined to make Thursday’s game a rock fight.

Still, USC coach Andy Enfield drew up one play after another to get Mobley the ball late, trusting that he’d make a play.

“That’s the type of effort we need and leadership we need from him,” Enfield said. “He’s really evolved as a player. Even though he struggled offensively for the first 35, 36 minutes, when it mattered most, he came up big.”

Until Mobley took matters into his own hands, USC had scrounged together a group effort as best it could, trading roles throughout. Boogie Ellis, who finished with 14, kept the Trojans afloat early. Chevez Goodwin, who tallied his second double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds, kept them alive late.

USC guard Isaiah White blocks a shot by Oregon State guard Xzavier Malone-Key.
USC guard Isaiah White (5) blocks a shot by Oregon State guard Xzavier Malone-Key (5) as USC forward Kobe Johnson, left, is called for a foul in the first half.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

With no fans in the stands, it was Goodwin who brought the energy in the second half, diving for loose balls and ramping up USC’s physicality. In a transformative season so far for the sixth-year senior, it was perhaps his best performance yet, Enfield said.

“He was relentless,” the coach added.

It’s a role Goodwin said he hopes to play the rest of the season and one that was essential in a game that included three technical fouls.

Until Mobley put them away late, it was that reenergized defensive effort that saw USC climb back into a game that it once trailed by double digits in the second half. After a Beaver barrage from the perimeter early on, USC’s defense kept them completely at bay in the second, as Oregon State shot just 33% from the field after halftime.

That’s when USC finally started to find its stride, before finishing on an 11-0 run, its defensive completely clamping down on Oregon State late.

On the heels of a season marred by his arrest and temporary removal from the team, USC’s Bru McCoy has entered the NCAA transfer portal.

For the Trojans, it was a crucial finish after a difficult final few minutes against Stanford did them in just two nights earlier.

USC picked up Thursday right where it left off two days earlier, with the familiar clank of missed free throws. It was an ominous way to open for the Trojans, who missed 10 second-half free throws at Stanford two days earlier, only to miss its first two against Oregon State.

The situation only grew more grave from there, as the Beavers, one of the Pac-12’s worst teams through the first two months of the season, caught fire out of the gate. They hit five of their first six shots before Enfield was forced to call a timeout less than three minutes into the game.

Even as the Trojans regrouped briefly, Oregon State refused to relent, hitting 58% of its shots in the first half while keeping USC at arm’s length. It torched the Trojans from long range and outworked USC on the glass, where the Trojans had been one of the best teams in the Pac-12. Jarod Lucas, the Beavers’ leading scorer, finished with 27 points.

Point guard Ellis did his best to keep USC afloat early, scoring 10 in the first half to build on his hot streak since the team’s COVID pause. But his offensive onslaught was overshadowed by Lucas, who made four three-pointers, on his way to 16 first-half points.

As Oregon State clung to a lead through the entire half, USC bared little resemblance to the dominant defensive team that, just a week earlier, won its 13th straight and flew up to No. 5 in the AP poll.

Since, the Trojans had looked largely out of sorts. It took a scare from one of the Pac-12’s worst teams for USC to find its form just in time on Thursday.

“Sometimes, you just have to adjust and figure it out,” Mobley said. “That’s what our team did.”