Tales From The Pit: NIT Oregon 77 – Colorado 72

March 17th, 2004 was the last time the Ducks found themselves playing in the first round of the NIT tournament. That year, the 16-12 Ducks had drawn the 18-11 Buffaloes from the Big-12. The Ducks were playing post-season March basketball again, and were coming off of just the second stretch of back to back 20+ win seasons in school history.

While the record may not look like much in hindsight, at the time Oregon was in rebuilding mode after losing the nucleus of a team that had reached the Elite-Eight, and won the conference tournament in consecutive seasons, while posting a combined 49-19 record.

The personnel losses included former Pac-10 player of the year and Pac-10 tournament MVP Luke Ridnour, and the high flying Fred Jones.

Senior Luke Jackson had returned, and was the clear-cut leader of this team. The roster included players like Ian Crosswhite, Andre Joseph, Jordan Kent, James Davis, Adam Zahn, Mitch Platt, and true freshman Aaron Brooks. While all of the players did some good things on the court, Jackson was really the only true and cosistent scoring threat. 

The young Aaron Brooks had been prone to turnovers and on the court tantrums, and Davis was a streaky jump shooter who could get hot, but struggled against the premier Pac-10 guards. Joseph and Crosswhite were consistent enough as all-around players, but neither could take over a game on offense. Kent, Platt, and Zahn well, let’s just say they were… more valuable on the defensive end.  

Oregon was the only representative of the Pac-12 in the 40 team field which, among others, included Altman’s Creighton Jays, LSU, Notre Dame, Villanova, Purdue, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and the eventual tournament runner-up, Rutgers.

Dana Altman’s former team was narrowly defeated in their game, where they were bounced 71-70 by Nebraska in the first round. Across the bracket, Ernie Kent, Luke Jackson, and the Mac Court crowd were looking to make some noise in another tournament run.

It was Colorado that took an early 9-4 advantage, only to have Oregon take over the lead at 14-11 on a 3 pointer from Aaron Brooks. Colorado then answered with a run of their own, and controlled most of the action in the first half. The Buffs hit back to back threes in the final seconds, and took a 45-30 advantage into halftime.

The Buffaloes came out again looking to start fast and they were able to push the lead to 48-30 before Oregon would manage a rally of their own. Starting with a steal followed by a dunk by Luke Jackson with under 16 minutes to play, the Ducks began putting together a 17-1 run over the next 8 minutes.

Colorado, who had been red hot in the first half, suddenly went cold as nearly 12 minutes elapsed between field goals before a putback by David Harrison with 6 minutes to play.

"We need you to go out there and drop 40, Luke"

The Buffs were holding a 52-47 advantage when Luke really started to take over.

In a truly unforgettable and simply remarkable performance, Jackson hit three 3-pointers and went on to score 31 of the Ducks 33 points the rest of the way. The only other player to score for the Ducks was Andre Joseph, who made a pair of free throws late in overtime.

 With just under 5 minutes to play, Luke accounted for Oregon’s final 14 points of regulation, knotting the game at 61 on a big 3 pointer. Jackson followed that up with 14 more in overtime, 11 of those coming from the free throw line. In the end, Luke Jackson finished with a staggering 40 points, including 29 straight at one point, and converted 15-for-16 overall on free throws. His outburst allowed the Ducks to turn the momentum in their favor and hold on for a 77-72 win.

 The Buffaloes were stunned, and the amped up Mac court crowd was delirious. After the game, even the Colorado players couldn’t help but give credit to the great individual effort. Leading scorer David Harrison, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds in the game, had this to say:

“Forty points is an amazing number to hit,” Harrison said of Jackson. “That final (3-pointer), I was dumbfounded. That didn’t hit anything but the net. He’s just a great player.”

“We were definitely on cloud nine going into halftime,” Harrison said. “But you definitely have to hand it to Oregon, they didn’t want this to be their last game.”

Coach Ernie layed it on even thicker, with:

“We’ve created our own March Madness here in Eugene,” Kent said. “(Jackson’s) performance was the best I’ve seen anywhere.”

Jackson, however, was more humble about the big night:

“You know, you get into a good rhythm and you just go with it,  ”I’m just happy we’re moving on.”

The Ducks would move on and continue their winning ways over George Mason (68-54), and Notre Dame (65-61). Oregon’s season would reach an end in the semi-final round, where they were defeated by the eventual NIT tournament champion, Michigan.

The Cavaliers drafted Luke Jackson 14th overall, after a strong senior season

 

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Josh White

Josh White

Josh White has been a dedicated Duck fan since the Bill Musgrave days. He has attended (and lost his voice at) virtually every home game and many away games since the late 1980's, including 96 of the current 97 game sellout streak at Autzen Stadium. A Eugene native, Josh works full time in Eugene area real estate, helping people buy and sell residential and commercial properties, and also volunteers with Habitat For Humanity, Kidsports and Food For Lane County. He welcomes your feedback.Twitter: @WhiteHouseJosh Facebook: EugenesBestRealtor

  • DC Duck

    I was in the Pit during this game, and remember those 3s. It was awesome, even if it was the NIT.

    Also, Andre Joseph was one of my favorites on the team back then. He had great energy.

  • Skrappyo

    Remember that game well. Not to take anything from Luke but the crowd made the difference defensively. Sitting on their hands for the majority of the game, the crowd was getting very subdued as the Buffs outplayed the Ducks and were steadily building a larger and larger lead from midway through the first into the mid second. Then Jackson with his steal and subsequent dunk ignited Mac court into the inferno that scorches the other teams confidence. I recall that dazed look on the buffs faces as they tried to concentrate in spite of the oppression of the crowd. We screamed our hearts out and watched as our Ducks slowly chinked away at the lead and eventually Jacksons 3 pointer tied it up with time running out.

    Offensively I’ll never forget that dominance of Jackson. He would be standing while faintly dribbling at the corner of the key looking at the basket and looking at the defender. The challenge was clear to everyone there even though no words were spoken….”I am going to the hole and there is nothing you can do about it.” in a surreal  exhibition he did it again and again. The buffs tried every defender, and double even triple teaming him all to no avail. Finally in overtime with no answers they began fairly tackling him on his way to the basket every time he got the ball. He made them pay with his free throws as well.

    Truly one of the greatest games in my rather substantial lifetime.

  • Rick

    THE best individual performance I have ever seen on a basketball court.  Only Kobe can take over a game like Luke did that night.

  • GP DUCK

    I will never forget the chills from that game.  Seeing somebody take over like that is a rare feat.  Luke Jackson is one of my all time favorite Duck hoopers. Storming the court felt like a dream, and it made for one great St. Patricks day.  Long live LUKE!