After freshman Dominic Artis bounced in a three-pointer to break a 52-52 tie with 11:31 left in Thursday’s Civil War at Matthew Knight Arena, Oregon’s four seniors scored 29 of the final 30 points of the game as the Ducks roared past Oregon State, 85-75, and reclaimed sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 race with two games remaining.
In this 339th meeting between the two rival schools, OSU came out firing. Behind the 22 first-half points by junior Roberto Nelson, the determined Beavers shot well, controlled the backboards, and their physicality sent Duck feathers flying on more than one occasion. Officials let the teams go at it and OSU had the better of it early on.
At halftime, Oregon was behind by seven points and not playing with much intensity, not finishing layups, and missing free throws. Damyean Dotson was out with a hip injury from a hard fall and wouldn’t return. Were the Ducks worried? Was it possible that they could let the Beavers ruin Senior Night and punch a huge hole in their league title chances, perhaps even spoil their opportunity to play in the Big Dance?
“Naw,” E.J. Singler said. “I knew we were going to win.”
Oregon now boasts a 6-1 record in Pac-12 games in which they’ve trailed at the half and coach Dana Altman was at a loss to explain why. “I’m not sure. I guess it’s just poor preparation for the first half,” he quipped. “But our guys are competitors, and that’s always a quality you look for. I don’t think they’ve ever panicked being behind, even double digits.”
Altman said, “I thought Oregon State was outstanding in the first half. Nelson was really on tonight. We couldn’t stop him.” One of the league’s leading scorers, Nelson was held without a field goal in the second half until 2:07 left in the game, but he still finished with 31 points to lead all scorers.
OSU started the second period with a bucket by Joe Burton that gave the Beavers a nine-point edge, their largest lead of the contest. But behind the determined play by the four Oregon seniors, the Ducks chipped away. Trailing 51-46 midway through the period, Oregon surged out to an 18-3 run to take command 64-54, with 8:59 left.
What was the difference? Once the Ducks hit a few perimeter shots, OSU’s zone defense had to spread out to defend shooters, and Oregon pounded the ball inside to Tony Woods, Arsalan Kazemi, and Carlos Emory. In the first half, Oregon couldn’t finish on three or four layups, and didn’t shoot well from outside. These struggles allowed the Beavers to pack in their zone and make it difficult to get the ball inside.
All that changed once Artis, Loyd, and Emory all hit perimeter shots to stretch Oregon State’s zone. During Oregon’s big second half run, the Ducks had emphatic dunks on three straight possessions, all on assists from Singler. It didn’t help OSU that Burton and Eric Moreland, their primary post players, were in foul trouble. Oregon took full advantage and dominated the paint in the second half.
Kazemi recorded his 53rd career double-double, his eighth of this season, on his final night playing in Eugene. Kazemi scored 17 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished out four assists. In his single year as a Duck, the quiet-spoken Iranian has endeared himself to the Duck faithful, especially the Pit Crew. He said, “We still have two games to go, and that’s our plan — to win the Pac-12 regular season. This was just another game we had to win to stay on top of the league.”
Emory had a career-high scoring night with 21 points. He came off the bench in the first half, but started in place of Dotson in the second half when Dotson couldn’t continue. The athletic senior has now scored in double figures off the bench in 10 straight games, and playing with a high degree of confidence. Emory said, ” I’m just feeling a lot more confident. It’s all about staying with positive energy.”
Woods had 16 points and three blocks on the night, but perhaps his most significant play was to take an offensive charge from Moreland as the Beaver leaper posterized Woods with a huge throw-down slam dunk. When the call went Oregon’s way, Moreland protested and was called for a technical. It was a big turning point in the game, and it seemed to energize the Ducks and the 10,621 fans in attendance.
On a night when the entire Duck Nation welcomed Artis back to action for the first time since January 23, point guard Jonathan Loyd played his second high-quality game in a row. The junior scored 12 points, had three rebounds, three assists, four steals, and no turnovers in 29 minutes of action.
Altman said, “Johnny battled hard. As we get D.A. some more minutes, their time will balance out a little bit, but Johnny’s going to have a big week for us next week. He’s doing a great job.”
Artis played 12 minutes, a few more than the coaching staff intended after his extended absence. But when Loyd picked up his fourth foul with over 14 minutes to play, Altman turned to his freshman star, and Artis delivered the outside shot that gave Oregon the lead for good. Just his presence seemed to give the Ducks confidence, and it certainly excited the crowd.
Altman said, “I thought his 12 minutes were really good. Just his personality, his competitiveness. He went two for three, he tried to guard, he blocked out. His two threes were important in spreading the floor. He’s just a threat.”
Oregon is now just two wins away from capturing their first conference title since 2002. With two regular-season games remaining — road games at Colorado and Utah next week — the Ducks (23-6, 12-4 Pac-12) control their own fate.
Singler, who started his 110th consecutive game as a Duck, scored nine points and passed out six assists in his home finale. He said, “Being down at halftime is not what we want to do. We know we’ve got to start better (in games next week), but tonight I had full confidence in our guys. I knew we would regroup, and we did.”
On Senior Night during a very uncivil war, just when things were starting to slip away, Oregon’s most experienced players showed just the grit and determination required to keep this special season on track.
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