SACRAMENTO, Calif. — No. 3 Oregon steamrolled the No. 14 Iona, 93-77, defense in their first round win at the 2017 NCAA Tournament. The Ducks grabbed their 30th victory of the season on Friday morning from the Golden 1 Center. Tyler Dorsey led the way with a game-high 24 points.
Only Villanova (67) and Kansas (62) have more total wins than Oregon (61) over the last two years. In fact, the reigning national champions and the Ducks are the only two teams in college basketball with 30 wins or more the last two seasons.
Payton Pritchard’s offensive production needed to elevate in the absence of Chris Boucher. The true freshman not only stepped up, but he was the catalyst on Friday morning.
West Linn’s finest scored 11 second-half points, and 16 overall after registering five points in the first 20 minutes. The Oregonian added four dimes, three boards and three stolen passes, while turning the ball over just once.
“When we moved it and made plays for each other, I thought we were pretty good,” stated Oregon head coach Dana Altman.
The sophomore registered 14 points at the break. Dorsey concluded with a game-high 24 points. The California native was lights out from the floor, going 9-for-13 from the field and 4-for-6 from deep.
Altman was pleased with “moments” of Oregon’s performance on Friday. It was the Ducks’ second game this season playing without their anchor, Chris Boucher.
“We had some really explosive periods where I thought we were really focused,” said Altman. “When we dropped down a bit, it slipped on us pretty quick because of their (Iona) offensive abilities.”
The Ducks were scorching in this contest, shooting 55 percent from the floor. Oregon made 9-of-23 from 3-point territory (39 percent) against a team predicated on the triple in Iona.
“Thinking about one goal and one goal only,” said Dillon Brooks.
The turning point of the game occurred between the end of the first half and the start of the second half, buoyed by Pritchard, Bell and Dorsey.
“The way we ended the first half and began the second half,” said Altman. “Our focus, our ball movement, making plays for each other was really good.”
Dillon Brooks re-entered the contest amid an Iona 14-6 run with two fouls. An 8-2 Duck run led by Brooks handed UO a lead of 13 points.
Brooks concluded a solid day with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting. He added four assists, four rebounds and a blocked shot.
"We handled it pretty well," said Brooks. "We've seen teams get it going, so everybody had to show up. Guys were confident, knocking down shots. It was a great first game for everybody."
Oregon entered the locker room at halftime leading by 18 points, 55-37. The offense exploded 10 minutes into their first NCAA Tournament game of 2017. They would take that momentum into the second half with a 10-2 run out of the gates.
“I think we did a pretty good job getting back focus without Boucher, after practicing,” Jordan Bell stated. “A lot of people stepped up today doing things they don’t usually do.”
Iona returned the favor with a 17-5 spurt of their own with six minutes left in the game, 83-70. Deyshonee Much highlighted the offensive exhibition. The junior recorded 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting from downtown.
“It’s tough. You start to play out of your nature,” said Bell in reference to playing with a big lead. “Coach got into us. No. 15 (Much) starting hitting some crazy 3’s. We just had to get back focus. Everyone is doing the little things to help us out.”
The Gaels were led by their star Jordan Washington. The senior forward finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds. He went down in a heap at the end of the first half, but was able to return to action for the final 20 minutes. You never want to see injuries, especially at this time of the year.
Son of former NBA Champion, Sam Cassell Jr. was brilliant with 16 points off the bench for the Gaels. He was 5-for-10 from the floor and 3-for-5 from deep.
Jordan Bell led the way at the half with a game-high 15 points, alongside four boards. He finished with 17 points and 10 boards for the double-double. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year registered a blocked shot and a stolen pass.
“I wasn’t doing anything on the defensive or offensive end, so I just wanted to affect the game somehow,” said the Long Beach native. “I started making myself aware of where the basketball was and getting big inside the paint. My teammates kept giving me the ball and I just kept doing work inside.”
Most of the team stats in this game were pretty even outside of shooting percentage. Yet, Oregon dominated the glass. They out-rebounded Iona 40-27 in their first round action on Friday.
Senior Dylan Ennis was the utility man with seven rebounds, five points, three dimes and three steals. The Canadian stud logged a game-high 36 minutes of action. He did not commit a turnover.
“The chemistry hasn't changed at all. Him (Boucher) on the sideline is just like him being on the floor,” said Ennis. “Obviously he’s physically not out there, but he is always encouraging us. If all of us just stay active on defense, hopefully we can make up for him being out.”
The Arizona native Casey Benson scored nine points off the bench. He drilled 4-for-8 from the floor for Oregon.
Boucher’s “replacement” Kavell Bigby-Williams was solid in his second straight game with 14 minutes of action. He registered six rebounds and four points.
Even the freshman Seattle product, Keith Smith, made an appearance in the first half. Smith finished with a steal and an assist.
“With all our offensive weapons and our bigs down low, if we keep attacking the basket and making plays for each other, I think we’re good,” Ennis stated. “We still have a job to be done.”
The Ducks have won at least one NCAA game in five straight seasons. Bell became the school's career NCAA Tournament rebounding leader, passing former teammate Elgin Cook (49). Brooks moved into fourth place on the Ducks' single-season scoring list.
No. 3 Oregon (30-5) will meet No. 11 Rhode Island (25-9) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Rams will enter the contest having won nine consecutive games. They buried Altman’s former team, Creighton, 84-72 on Friday afternoon. Tip set for 4:10 p.m. PT on Sunday from the Golden 1 Center.
Saturday, I will be at Capital Christian High School to witness 4-star Oregon commit Abu Kigab. His elite Prolific Prep squad will oppose Orangeville Prep from Ontario. The game will also involve five other Oregon recruits amid both sides. Tip is set for 7:00 p.m. PT from Sacramento. I will have a full recap and feature after the game for you.
Oregon Offense Explodes In First Round (Highlights courtesy of NCAA March Madness on CBS and their affiliates)