Coming off a final-minute win at Pac-12 Conference counterpart Washington State, No. 16 Southern California returns to nonconference competition on Tuesday when it plays host to Eastern Kentucky at Los Angeles.
The Trojans (8-0) opened league play 2-0 last week with a 63-61 defeat of Washington State on Saturday that was secured when Chevez Goodwin made a layup while getting fouled with 16 seconds remaining. Goodwin made the free throw.
“Our guys just gutted it out,” USC coach Andy Enfield. “We played very hard on both ends, got the defensive stop we needed to, and then we made the big play at the end.”
The game-winning sequence completed a game-high 14-point night for Goodwin, who is one of three USC scorers averaging in double figures on the season. Goodwin is posting 12.4 points per game, with Isaiah Mobley scoring 12.9 and Boogie Ellis setting the pace at 14.0.
A fourth, Drew Peterson, is just shy of scoring in double-figures at 9.9 points per game. He had 13 against Washington State.
Behind its depth and defensive play, USC is off to its best start since opening 14-0 in 2016-17.
Eastern Kentucky (5-4) brings a three-game losing streak into Los Angeles for what is the Colonels’ fourth consecutive road game. Eastern Kentucky gave West Virginia all it could handle in an 80-77 defeat on Nov. 26, lost 88-75 at Radford on Nov. 28 and fell Saturday at Western Kentucky 85-80.
The Colonels have allowed at least 79 points in all four of their losses, while scoring at least 75 points in all four. They ranked tied for 31st nationally in scoring offense at 82.4 points per game, heading into Monday’s contests.
“We’ve got to win these games,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said of the Colonels’ multiple single-digit defeats.
Playing a high-scoring, up-tempo style has given the Colonels opportunities. A key part of Eastern Kentucky’s strategy has been its perimeter offense.
In the loss at Western Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky knocked down 18 3-pointers. The Colonels lean heavily on long-range offense, with the nation’s second-highest distribution of points from beyond the arc per KenPom.com metrics, and rank fourth in percentage of 3-point attempts to total field-goal attempts.
Curt Lewis is shooting 45.0 percent from 3-point range to lead Eastern Kentucky, while Jannson Williams and Devontae Blanton are each at 42.9 percent.
USC, meanwhile, is holding opponents to 28.2 percent shooting from 3-point range. The Trojans have been solid on defense all around, holding teams to just 39.4 percent on 2-point field-goal attempts.
USC’s defensive prowess is in part a byproduct of its collective length, which Enfield cited as a key to Saturday’s win. The Trojans have the fourth-tallest team in the country based on average height per KenPom, with Enfield oftentimes playing 6-foot-9 Peterson and Max Agbonkpolo on the wings to complement 6-foot-9 Goodwin and 6-foot-10 Mobley at forward.
Perimeter-oriented Eastern Kentucky ranks among the smaller lineups in college basketball: tied at No. 291, according to KenPom. The Colonels likely will push the tempo to counter the Trojans’ size.
–Field Level Media