Minutes before tip of Oregon’s first-round NIT matchup with Rider, the Ducks emerged from their locker room in their fluorescent yellow jerseys to a half-hearted cheer from a maybe quarter-full Matthew Knight Arena. It’s a sight that Oregon has seen few times at home this season, and mainly for preseason scrimmages, not postseason tournament games.
But this was, after all, an NIT game on a Tuesday night, and one can only presume that Duck fans didn’t want to watch Oregon play in a consolation tournament after what was an entirely disappointing season.
Four minutes to tip, MKA not exactly packed pic.twitter.com/LEIYcEyW64
— Gus Morris (@JustGusMorris) March 14, 2018
The 2,327 fans that ended up occupying the 12,000 seat arena witnessed a 99-86 Ducks win over the Broncs (22-10) that sent Oregon to the second round of the NIT to face either Marquette or Harvard. But for about two-and-a-half quarters (all NIT games will be played in quarters this year), Oregon appeared to have no interest in being on the floor. It took a strong second-half run to propel the Ducks (23-12) to victory and keep their season alive for at least one more game.
Freshman V.J. Bailey played a big role in the win. He hit a career-high seven threes en route to a career-high 23 points, 14 of which he scored in the second half. Altman gave Bailey his fair share of credit for the second-half turnaround.
“Once we started clicking we got a few shots down and the energy level went way up. VJ really likes to play when the ball is going in. He did a really nice job shooting the ball and giving us some energy there,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said.
Bailey hit four of his seven threes after the 3:25 mark of the third quarter. His first cut Rider’s lead to 56-55. Payton Pritchard converted a layup on Oregon’s next possession to give the Ducks a 57-56 lead, their first lead since the score was 3-2.
Oregon outscored Rider 42-30 the rest of the way.
“He gives us a spark off the bench and we just try to give it to him every time,” said Kenny Wooten, who recorded his third double-double of the season with 12 points and ten rebounds. “We know he’ll get a good shot so that’s what we try and do when he gets in.”
Oregon needed a second-half spark after its lackadaisical first half performance that had them down 44-36 at halftime. The Ducks made 13 shots on 33 percent shooting and turned the ball over nine times. Rider was equally sloppy, turning the ball over seven times, but shot 52 percent from the field and scored 28 of its 44 first-half points in the paint. The Broncs dominated the paint all night and got 50 of their 86 points from down low.
“They didn’t beat us, they killed us,” Altman said. “That’s probably as many as we’ve given up all year.”
But the second half was a different story. Oregon’s offense sprung to life and the Ducks rode the hot hands of Elijah Brown (16 second-half points, 18 for the game), Pritchard (18 second-half points, 23 for the game), and Bailey to the buzzer. For a team that struggled to hit threes in Vegas last week, the Ducks hit 14 of their 26 attempts with nine makes coming in the second half.
It wasn’t pretty, but Oregon survived to play another game. They’ll face either two seed Marquette or seven seed Harvard, who play each other Wednesday night. If the Ducks draw Marquette, they’ll have to travel over 2,000 miles to play the Golden Eagles. They’ll host Harvard if the Crimson win.
For a game that might have been the last at Matthew Knight this season, at least the home crowd went home happy.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris
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