Oregon State Wins 2K Sports Classic Regional, But NYC Was Booked RegardlessPosted by Kenny Ocker on November 11th, 2012
Kenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He can be reached on Twitter @kennyocker.
Ahmad Starks had an incredible game. By halftime, he had 19 points, five assists and three steals. His first three-pointer changed the face of the game, taking an Oregon State team that was trailing New Mexico State by six with 10 minutes to go in the first half and righting their course, setting them on a trajectory to win the 2K Sports Classic preliminary game and set the Beavers on a course to Manhattan for the tournament’s finals.
…which they would have gone to anyway, given the weird nature of the preliminary rounds of the tournament. In what essentially is a way to scam the NCAA’s scheduling rules to get more games into teams’ schedules, the tournament brackets teams in different regionals, but pre-selects which teams are going to the final bracket and which teams are shipped off elsewhere to continue playing the “tournament” while not playing for hardware. Because exempt tournaments count as one game in a team’s schedule limit of 30, it lets schools play more games. But because it’s not a true knockout tournament, lower-seeded teams, such as the Aggies or Niagara – Oregon State’s victim Friday night – are denied an opportunity to be rewarded if they pull off a big win. At least New Mexico State gets a trip to New York out of the tournament. No, not to New York City. The Purple Eagles of Niagara will host the Aggies and Bucknell Bison (which beat 2K Sports Classic “finalist” Purdue) on back-to-back days next weekend.
The run that Starks started, which put the game out of reach in the first half for Oregon State, was an impressive performance that would make OSU fans forget about first-round NBA draft pick Jared Cunningham. After a Starks three-pointer shook the Aggies’ confidence, Beaver fans first got into the game, rattling New Mexico State into a backcourt violation, which Starks followed with a layup. It looked like a NMSU tip-in would put out the fire, and a nearly-airballed three from OSU followed. But OSU center Angus Brandt, an Aussie with guard-level range and fundamentals, had a steal, which Starks followed with another layup. When the Aggies called timeout, the Beavers blocked a shot, and Starks dished to forward Joe Burton for a layup after the defense collapsed. New Mexico State missed a jumper to follow that, Burton hit guard Roberto Nelson on a spot-on outlet pass for a last layup, and that six-point deficit turned into a three-point lead in just more than three minutes. Eventually, it turned into a 22-6 run between the first and second halves.
And that was your game. Once the Aggies started falling apart, they kept melting down, with coach Marvin Menzies picking up a technical after a missed loose-ball foul call and Oregon State cruising to halftime with an 11-point lead, which it never came too close to relinquishing, a late Aggies flurry notwithstanding. “You can’t say enough about the game Ahmad had,” Beavers coach Craig Robinson said after the game. “Just absolutely spectacular, when we needed somebody to put the team on their shoulders and shoulder the offensive burden.”
All told, Starks finished with 33 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals; the only other Beaver in double-digits was Burton with 13 points. New Mexico State’s 17 offensive rebounds were countered by seven Oregon State blocks, negating that advantage significantly. And the cold-shooting Aggies went 1-for-11 from three-point range as they were in catchup mode for the whole second half. Not that better shooting would have mattered anyway. For Oregon State, Madison Square Garden awaits regardless. And the Beavers have a good shot of beating down Purdue/Alabama/Villanova teams there and claiming a non-conference tournament title.