Oregon suffered its second Phil Knight Invitational loss - and third in a row overall - in a close, competitive game last night to #12 Michigan State. The injury bug bit the Ducks again, as N’Faly Dante appeared to suffer a head injury and Kel’el Ware hyperextended his knee during the 74 - 70 defeat. Dante left the game in the middle of the first half and seemed unsteady on his feet as he headed to the Oregon bench after a collision under the Oregon basket. Ware suffered a non-contact injury to his knee with only a minute or so to play and limped to the Oregon bench. Ware did return to the game but his status for Sunday’s tilt with Villanova is unknown. Oregon has now suffered injuries to 6 key players in the young season.
Oregon got off to a slow start, missing 2 shots and committing a turnover as Michigan State scored 5 straight. Oregon then scored layups by Dante and Rivaldo Soares and a 3-pointer from Ware that tied the game at 7 at 16:37. Oregon took its first lead at 10 - 7 on another Ware shot from beyond the arc. The Ducks cranked up their interior defense with a block by Bittle and began limiting MSU to a single shot with strong defensive rebounding. The “hustle” plays were at both ends of the court, as Dante had a shot blocked but picked up the ball and drove for a layup to put Oregon up 17 - 11 at 10:58. A couple of possessions later, Oregon turned the ball over on a play inside which may have been when Dante was injured. He seemed unsteady on his feet returning to the Oregon bench after the play and was taken to the Oregon locker room. He later returned to the bench but did not re-enter the game.
Oregon gained its largest lead - 20 - 12 - when Will Richardson, Jr hit a shot inside at 8:15. Quincy Guerrier hit a 3-pointer and Ware powered inside and scored twice to put Oregon ahead 27 - 19, but the Ducks would then hit a cold patch. Oregon missed 5 consecutive shots and committed 2 offensive fouls as MSU suddenly found its shooting touch. The Spartans went on a 14-3 run to close out the first half and surge to a 33 - 30 lead. For the half, Ware led Oregon with 11 points and 4 rebounds, while Soares scored 7 and Richardson 5. Bittle added 4 rebounds for the Ducks and Richardson added 5 assists. Oregon did not score a first-half point off the bench and the team continued some pretty rough shooting from the field, hitting just 38.7 percent overall and only 25 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Oregon quickly retook the lead early in the half on two Richardson 3-pointers and the game remained close as the Ducks began to have trouble defending inside as Bittle had to go to the bench briefly with a foot injury, leaving Oregon with a “small” line-up. An MSU drive across the lane and layup gave them their first lead of the half at 43 - 41.
Guerrier picked up his 4th foul as the Ducks deployed full-court pressure with a 50-48 lead at 10:06 - the subsequent MSU free throws tied the game. Guerrier would foul out 3 minutes later on a questionable offensive foul. Oregon picked up an unusually large number of offensive fouls in this game - on most the defensive player was still in motion when the contact took place. Oregon Head Coach Dana Altman was incensed at a couple of these calls.
With Oregon running out of bodies, MSU began to gain an advantage. Already leading 56 - 52 when Guerrier had to leave the game, the Spartans would extend their lead to 8 points with 4:03 left. Late in the game, Richardson stepped up hitting inside on a drive and from 3-point distance. When the Duck press caused a Spartan turnover and Soares scored on a layup-and-one, Oregon had closed to 68 - 67 with 54 seconds to play and the game looked like it would go down to the wire.
MSU made 4 free throws sandwiched around a missed 3 for Oregon to lead 72 - 67 with 26 seconds left. On Oregon’s subsequent possession, Richardson drove, made the layup and was fouled to pull the Ducks within 2 points. Another foul on Oregon and 2 more made free throws put the game out of reach and Oregon could not score again as MSU walked off with the 74 - 70 victory.
For the game, Richardson led the Ducks with 28 points (23 in the 2nd half) - tying his career high in the kind of performance for which Oregon fans have been waiting. Richardson also dished out 8 assists and had only 2 turnovers. Ware added 17 points and Soares 10. Ware also had 9 rebounds and Soares 6. Oregon had only 3 points off the bench. Second-half shooting improved considerably, as the Ducks finished at 43 percent overall and 31.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Dante may be in Concussion Protocol - we should know more when the Ducks play Villanova this afternoon. Oregon showed a lot of quality in this game, and one could see the seeds of a very good basketball team if and when the Ducks get their injured players back on the court. Richardson played probably the most effective game he’s had in a Duck uniform and Ware had a strong game as well.
Oregon faces Villanova in their final PK Invitational game on Sunday at 12:30 in Portland.