by Rob Moseley
As Oregon's lead dwindled from 19 to 14, then 10 and then six, and finally just two with five minutes left in Sunday's Civil War, Duck fans would have been forgiven for thinking, "here we go again."
The UO men's basketball team was coming off consecutive two-point losses in Arizona, giving them five losses by a four points or fewer in Pac-12 play. The team that started 13-0, with three overtime wins, was a distant memory. The Ducks had been anything but clutch since the calendar flipped to 2014.
But a funny thing happened on the way to another narrow defeat. Oregon answered the bell. With the Beavers within 72-70, Oregon got stops on five of the next six OSU possessions, and went on a 12-3 run that provided enough cushion for a 93-83 victory before 10,013 fans in Matthew Knight Arena.
"I'm glad for the guys," UO coach Dana Altman said. "I'm glad they battled back. We got in that huddle and just said, 'Fellas, take a deep breath here. It still comes down to stops and rebounds; it still comes down to execution.' And I thought they did a good job."
The victory allowed Oregon (16-8, 4-8) to avenge an embarrassing loss in Corvallis earlier this season. More importantly, it set a positive tone to kick off a three-game homestand that continues Wednesday against Washington, and which is part of a bigger stretch of five home games out of the last seven to end the regular season.
"This was an important game for us, kind of getting back on track," said UO senior Johnathan Loyd, who participated in his 89th victory at Oregon, tying the school record held by E.J. Singler. "We've been so close. It was important for us to bounce back and start this little run we're about to go on."
The Ducks got revenge against the Beavers (13-11, 5-7) by turning their Jan. 19 performance completely on its head.
That day, Oregon shot a season-low .211 from three-point range, and had a season-low six assists along with 19 turnovers. Sunday, the UO men hit their first seven three-pointers to build an early 31-12 advantage, finished 11-of-21 for the game and had 18 assists against just six turnovers.
Oregon spoke of the need for better ball movement coming into the day, and backed it up on the court once the game started.
"It's huge, because they have so much length," UO senior Mike Moser said. "If you attack off the first pass, it's tough; they're so long. You've got to get them moving with the pass, get them out of position."
After halftime, the Beavers set the tone with that length. Oregon made just 1-of-6 three-pointers to open the second half, while OSU posts Eric Moreland and Angus Brandt established themselves down low. The Beavers made 5-of-6 shots to start the half, and got back within two at 63-61 on a Brandt bucket.
From there, Oregon's Joseph Young put the Ducks on his back, scoring eight of their next nine points. But the Beavers wouldn't go away, and made it a two-point game again at 72-70.
That's when the Ducks, bruised and battered from their recent losses in close games, could have folded. Instead, Loyd scored to begin a clutch couple of minutes that featured Richard Amardi taking a charge, Jason Calliste finally hitting another three-pointer, and the Ducks keeping OSU off the offensive glass.
"Once we got a couple of consecutive stops and got the rebound, we were able to come down and get some free throws, and that was huge," Moser said.
Indeed, Oregon made 14-of-16 free throws in the final five minutes. The Ducks are the Pac-12's best free-throw shooting team, and they put that accuracy to use in winning for the third time in six games — not an overwhelming record by any means, but much needed after five straight losses in January.
The Ducks said they put the long week of Civil War practices to good use, particularly on a couple of hard work days Tuesday and Wednesday.
"People were focused and locked in," Loyd said. "People were ready, and we knew how bad we wanted this. We had a sense of urgency."
At this point, the Ducks are at least trending in the right direction during Pac-12 play. They went 1-5 in the first six games, then 3-3 in the next six, which ended Sunday. The final six loom, four of them at home, followed by the conference tournament.
For a team that still clings to narrow NCAA Tournament hopes, all of those are opportunities for the Ducks to state their case. Altman made that point Sunday when asked whether he thought Oregon deserving of consideration for the Big Dance.
"Right now, we're not," he said. "But we can change that."
NOTES: Oregon’s 93 points is the most it's scored against Oregon State in 19 years (107-86 on Feb. 11, 1995). Oregon’s last time scoring at least 93 points came in a 100-point overtime effort against BYU on Dec. 21st. The game also marked Oregon’s highest scoring output in conference play. ... Five players reached double figures for the Ducks, for the first time since an overtime battle at Ole Miss. They were Young (25), Damyean Dotson (15), Moser (15), Calliste (14) and Loyd (11). ... Young has led the team in scoring 14 times this season, reaching double figures in 21-of-24 games while scoring 20-plus in 11 games.