Boogie Ellis came into the NCAA Tournament playing the best game of basketball of his career, averaging over 24 points over the past seven games and looking to add some March memories before ending his time with the Trojans.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way for Ellis or USC on Friday morning.
No. 7-seeded Michigan State ended the Trojans’ season during a one-sided second half en route to a 72–62 victory in first-round NCAA tournament action in Columbus, Ohio.
The loss really underscored how much USC had relied on Ellis this season as he led many of the team’s best wins. Alternatively, not keeping him at the top of his powers proved too much to overcome in this one, as the senior guard scored just 6 points on 3-of-12 shooting, while making all 3 of his 3-point attempts. Remembered that.
Ellis was held to scoring points only once since mid-December.
Ellis said, “He did a good job. I let my teammates down today. I didn’t make shots. And he made things difficult for me. Just defending the team, getting on the ball, getting into all the gaps, pretty much it. ” Later “… I played very fast today. I haven’t changed my pace all year. I play with a great pace. But today I played a little too fast. So it’s on me.”
Center Josh Morgan had one of his best scoring games of the season with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting, Kobe Johnson had 13 points and 9 rebounds, Drew Peterson had 11 and Reese Dixon-Watters scored 10 for the Trojans. which ended. 22-11.
While Michigan State (20-12) came into the game with a preference to contain Ellis, USC looked to deny the Spartans 3-point shooting and managed to hold them to 5 of 14 from the perimeter.
But some of those 3s felt like daggers, led by forward Joey Hauser, who hit 4 of 6 3s to go along with 17 points.
A pair of dunks by Carson Cooper – the second on a second-chance putback – extended the Spartans’ lead to 49–40 with 13:43 remaining and the Trojans never closed the gap. It was again a 9-point game when Hauser and Jaden Akins hit back-to-back 3s in the final 5:18.
USC coach Andy Enfield said, “Unfortunately, the play didn’t go as planned in the second half.” “Timely shot-making by Michigan State and some timely misses on our part, I thought was the difference in the game in the second half. We also had 8 turnovers, only 3 at halftime. Some of those turnovers were self-inflicted. , which means we turned the ball over on our own, about three or four of them. But our guys competed and played very hard the whole game.
While this is USC’s third straight NCAA tournament appearance (and would have been four straight if not for the cancellation of the 2020 tournament) – the longest such streak for the program since 2007–09 – it follows two straight first round exits. is Trojans.
And now they have to start the next season afresh in a big way.
Peterson (13.9 PPG and a team-high 6.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game) is out of eligibility and Ellis (17.7 PPG) is expected to get his shot in the NBA.
There’s always uncertainty as to what the transfer portal will take or bring, but barring unexpected departures, USC will return Johnson (a team captain who averaged 9.2 ppg and 5.0 rpg) and Dixon-Waters (9.8 ppg) at guard, who both took a step. This season with rising sophomore guard Trey White, a versatile 6-foot-7 player who averaged 9.0 PPG and 5.1 RPG). In the frontcourt, the Trojans return Morgan (their defensive anchor with 63 blocks, 7.0 PPG and 5.2 RPG) and 7-foot-1 sophomore Vincent Ivchukwu.
Ivchukwu was supposed to be a major factor this year, but between a cardiac arrest scare last summer and a season-ending back injury, he played in just 14 games while still looking a bit raw.
With a full, healthy offspring, there’s no telling what the former five-star prospect can provide for USC next season.
“Without him this year, half a year, it’s been challenging,” Enfield said. “He missed the first half of the season, came back, started playing really well, stuck in some of our defensive/offensive plans and was out here again at the end of the year. …
“Vince being out definitely affects our team, our rotation. But that’s no excuse why we lost. But you asked the question about Vince. He’s a big part of our program and we look forward to seeing him.” Hope to be healthy.”
No one else on the roster averaged at least 10 minutes per game, so players like Kizzani Wright, Oziah Sellers, Malik Thomas, Harrison Hornery and Iroslav Niagu are wildcards moving forward.
The big question is, who exactly handles Ellis and Peterson as the centerpieces of the offense?
Well, Johnson, Dixon-Waters or White could certainly take advantage of the opportunity available next season, but if the 2023-24 Trojans are going to reach peak potential, the answer has to be five-star freshman point guard Isaiah Collier. — The No. 1-ranked overall prospect in the country out of Marietta, Ga.
Collier is the No. 6-ranked recruiting class in the country for the Trojans, along with four-star forward Arinten Page (Collier’s HS teammate) and four-star guard Silas Demery Jr. – the No. 58 and 59-ranked prospects nationally.
If all those players return, with three freshmen coming in, USC will be at the 13-scholarship limit with no room to take in any transfers. Though again, it is very possible to open up a position or two through departure transfers.
But barring the unknown, perhaps an ideal starting lineup for the Trojans next year would look something like this:
PG – Isaiah Collier
G – Reese Dixon-Waters
G – Kobe Johnson
F — Vincent Ivchukwu
C – Joshua Morgan
With White, Page, Demery and one or two wildcards filling out the rotation.
It’s two five-star talents, the best shot-blocker in the Pac-12 and two rising guards — including a great defensive player in Johnson — along with some high-upside options off the bench.
That group has the potential to extend USC’s NCAA tournament streak, which is significant because the Trojans have never played in four straight NCAA tournaments (which, again, they already would have done had it not been for the 2020 cancellation).
Enfield and his staff have made USC basketball a perennial postseason program while regularly bringing in five-star talent, raising the bar on recruiting.
As the Trojans look forward to another year in 2021 fresh off their memorable Elite Eight run, though, the pressure will be on not only to reach the postseason but to make a true appearance in March.