LOS ANGELES – Midway through the first half, the USC Student Department at Galen Center began to raise their arms in anticipation every time guard Boogie Ellis stepped into his shooting motion.
And for the most part, the Memphis transfer was committed, with 19 points on 7-to-12 shooting in a 93-73 victory over Utah in the Trojans’ Pac-12 opening Wednesday night.
“When he gets hot, he gets hot,” guard Max Agbonkpolo said of Ellis. “When he gets hot, we try to give him the ball as much as we can, because if we can keep scoring by him, everything will work out.”
The game quickly ran out of hand at the end of the first half as the Trojans closed on a 23-7 run before going to the locker room and finishing 13th to 14th from the field. Utes was short-handed on arrival in LA with eight scholarship players available, and it only got worse when striker Branden Carlson left with a leg injury.
But perfectly healthy or not, it might not have mattered with the way No. 20 USC, and Ellis specifically, shot the ball on Wednesday.
When Trojan horses (overall 7-0, 1-0 Pac-12) put distance between themselves and the guests, Ellis was in the middle of it all. He howled at the student ward after a theft and one-handed thump. It was quickly followed by an Isaiah Mobley layup from the glass to push USC’s lead to eight and force a Utah timeout.
It did not help much for Utes (5-2, 0-1) to regroup, and soon Ellis hit 3-pointers backwards and then stole a pass from Rollie Worster and took the distance to another tomahawk dunk to push USC’s lead to 17 with 1:14 left in the half, with the crowd of 3,754 rolling with each bucket and stealing.
“It’s extremely funny, especially after a year of (what) I call silence,” Mobley said. “Everyone is happy and we’re trying to keep it that way, and we’re trying to build on that momentum.”
Ellis finished the first half with 16 points on 6-on-9 shooting.
It was not quite Ellis’ show. Mobley had an easy time scoring with post-moves and hook-shots to a hold-high 21 points on 8-to-14 shooting. Drew Peterson had a couple of nice spin moves on the drive for the paint to free up for easy layups. Joshua Morgan added four blocked shots from the bench.
And Trojan horses did what they do best, namely defense and rebound. USC held Utah to a 1-on-7 start from the floor and Utes went 11 for 37 in the first half.
Meanwhile, USC won the rebound match 51-32, with Mobley leading the team with a career-high 13 for his second double-double in as many matches. The junior forward also added two of USC’s nine blocked shots.
“He was a complete player tonight,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “It was great to see.”
When the Trojans went without a field goal to 4:08 in the second half and Utes came within 16, Enfield put Ellis back in the game. Ellis dribbled promptly around a screen at the top of the arc and calmly lowered a deep 3-pointer.
Still, USC had trouble shutting Utes out as it missed 10 free throws in the second half and allowed Utah guard Both Gach to score 28 in his career.
But Mobley put the match away with five straight points and a blocked shot to put an Ellis lob to Agbonkpolo, who scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half to help shut it out.
“We resisted and we split the ball in attack and we did what we had to do,” Enfield said.