In its first NCAA men's tournament appearance since 2017, USC isn't bowing out so soon. The No. 6 Trojans defeated No. 11 Drake 72-56 on Saturday in first-round play.
Evan Mobley dropped 17 points for the Trojans, who improve to 23-7.
For the 26-5 Bulldogs, who reached the tournament as an at-large selection after a second-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference, Joseph Yesufu tallied 26 points.
- Joseph Yesufu, Drake: 26 PTS, 5 REB
- Evan Mobley, USC: 17 PTS, 11 REB
- Isaiah Mobley, USC: 15 PTS, 5 REB
- Drew Peterson, USC: 14 PTS
- Tahj Eaddy, USC: 9 PTS, 10 AST
USC Limited by Struggles at the Line
Though the Trojans held the lead at the break, it could've been by more than three points had they capitalized on their free throws. Drake was whistled for 10 fouls in the first half, but the Trojans hit just three of their nine attempts from the line.
While their free-throw shooting was miserable statistically, especially when compared to Drake hitting six of its seven attempts, it wasn't a far cry from where the Trojans have ranked all season. The team averaged just 64.7 percent from the line, ranking 25th-worst in the NCAA. Only two teams in the tournament have worse free-throw percentages—Creighton (64.2 percent) and Rutgers (63.3 percent)—though USC has also attempted the fifth-most foul shots in the NCAA.
Evan Mobley's 13 first-half points led the Trojans, and he was the only USC starter to hit his free throws, though four of them went to the line in the first half. He hit two on four attempts, and Ethan Anderson came off the bench to hit one of his two attempts.
The Trojans had better luck in the second half as they built an 11-point lead—their highest of the day—on Drake via an 8-0 run. That lead eventually blew up to a 15-point advantage nearing the end of the half.
The Trojans ended the afternoon with 50 percent shooting from the field and 53.3 percent from the line, led by Mobley's double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds. While it was enough to power them past Drake, they'll have to step it up if they want to move past Kansas in the second round.
Drake Falters After Strong Start
Drake got to Saturday's matchup by crawling back to defeat Wichita State, 53-52, on Thursday. Their struggle was evident from the start, as the Bulldogs went nearly 10 minutes without scoring a field goal and allowed the Shockers to build an 11-point lead. They saw a similar stalemate in the second frame, though it only lasted roughly six minutes without a score, before storming back on a 22-11 run.
On Saturday, it seemed as though they learned from their mistake. Drake shot 41.9 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from three in the first half, keeping pace with higher-seeded USC and pulling into halftime trailing by three.
Joseph Yesufu led all scorers with 18 points in the opening half, most of them coming from deep as he went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. He also hit both of his free-throw attempts.
But in the second half, the Bulldogs' old ways caught up to them, and they were immobilized by the Trojans.
Yesufu hit a three with 1:06 gone in the frame, but then the Trojans erupted on an 8-0 run led by Drew Peterson, who hit two free throws and assisted a jump shot from Tahj Eaddy.
The Bulldogs didn't score again until an Issa Samake layup more than five minutes later, but it wasn't enough for them to overcome the hole they fell into in the break without scoring.
They hit just seven field goals after the break, ending the afternoon with 29.4 shooting from the field, and they looked like a completely different team from the one that troubled USC throughout the first half.
The Trojans are set for a matchup with No. 3 Kansas, which defeated No. 14 Eastern Washington 93-84 in first-round play earlier Saturday.
Looking ahead to next season, the Bulldogs will bring in a 4-star recruit in 6'6" forward Tucker DeVries—the 18th-ranked small forward in the class of 2021, per 247Sports—to work alongside Yesufu and Tremell Murphy, who will return for their junior and senior years.