An Oregon loss has never left me feeling so good. Forget the emigration of talent out of the program over the last offseason. Forget that we have no expectations this season. This game was unlike any Oregon basketball game we've seen in the last two-plus years. Teondre Williams and Jeremy Jacob were out with injuries. Walk-on Matt Losli was seeing action in the first half. Oregon was down the expected twenty points at the half. And, yet, we found ourselves rooting for one last Mac Court miracle. Somehow, if Johnathan Loyd could hit just one last three at the buzzer, the Ducks surely would have won this game in overtime. As it was, Dana Altman took a short version of a Big Sky roster and gave a top ten team everything it wanted and then some.
For everything this game was, the first half was rough. Oregon did some good things--the press was effective and Oregon was holding their own on the boards--but the Ducks were colder than a naked Eskimo eating a popsicle. The Ducks started the game 1-14 shooting en route to 24 first half points. Meanwhile, Mizzou was hitting well over 60% from the field, taking that 44-24 lead into the halftime break. Then Oregon woke up.
The whole comeback was fueled by Oregon's full court press, which forced 19 Tiger turnovers on the day. There were a number of times when Mizzou beat the pressure for easy buckets, but more often the result was throwing the ball away, stepping on the end line, or something else equally foolish. And Oregon's shooting woke up big time, going off for 62% shooting in the second half. In a four minute stretch at the 16:00 mark, the Ducks went on a 10-0 run, slashing the Tiger lead to single digits. From there, Oregon and Mizzou traded punches and when Mizzou found themselves up ten with 2:25, you figured the game was over. But EJ Singler and Johnathan Loyd went crazy from three point land, answering emotional dunks by Missouri with immediate buckets. Loyd hit two big threes in the last thrity seconds. If he could have made another crazy one at the buzzer, this is an even more giddy conversation. In any case, Oregon outscored Missouri 56-39 in the second half.
- The full court press is a powerful weapon. It gave Duke fits for large parts of that game. It gave Missouri fits the entire game. Most college teams just don't handle pressure and trapping well for an entire game. Missouri was giving us the ball and throwing it every which way into the stands. While Missouri's press was getting all the press coming into the game, Oregon's press was the one that had an impact on the game. The Ducks did get burned for some easy layins a few times when the press was broken, but that's the risk of a full court press. The reward is turnovers and bad shots, and Missouri had their share of both. Once we get actual athletes, that press is going to change from pesky to deadly.
- EJ Singler had two point at halftime. He finished with 19 points and nine rebounds. On a team that is, by Coach Altman's admission, not very fundamentally sounds, he stands out. He just seems to do all the little things well.
- Johnathan Loyd also had the best game of his young Duck career. 15 points and three assists, and had those two absolultely clutch threes in the last thirty seconds. However, more impressively for a freshman point guard, he handled the Missouri press relative well, with three turnovers in thirty minutes of action. And he had a nifty coast to coast through traffic that shows you his potential.
Despite the lack of talents on the roster, this has been the most fun I've had watching Oregon since Aaron Brooks was here. They move the ball, play within the offense, and play hard nosed, in your face defense. We're not going to have a great record this year, but the system is going to keep us in games we have no business being in. And, with the way the Beavers are playing, we are by no means a lock to finish last in the conference. You watch a game like this, and it completely validates why we made a coaching change, and why we hired the coach that we did. This season is the first step in a long journey, but I'm not going to wait until the talent comes next year to start enjoying the ride. Even with no talent, its already an exponentially better product than we've put up with the last two seasons.