Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan State 80, #12 Harvard 73

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 22nd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Harvard's Run Came to an End Tonight (Boston.com)

Harvard’s Run Came to an End Tonight (Boston.com)

  1. Any Michigan State starter *can* dominate — it just doesn’t mean they will. On Thursday night, Adreian Payne hung up 41 points. Tonight, Branden Dawson had 20 points and six rebounds in the first half. Dawson only had six in the second half, though, when his team’s offense started to completely fall apart. A consistent 40-minute performance was missing in this round of 32 game from everybody in green and white. Will that catch up with the Spartans as the competition toughens?
  2. The Spartans let a talented team back into the game. Giving up a 17-2 run to a lower seed never, ever bodes well for what’s to come, especially when that run lets said team come back and take the lead for the first time. It took a pair of quick whistles in the final minute for Michigan State to finally get the game in the bag here tonight. What was a good defensive performance was undone by lethargy. If I’m the next team that draws the Spartans, I’m not as concerned as I would have been before this weekend. As talented as they are, this team is still rather inconsistent.
  3. Harvard will likely never have a collection of this much talent again. Losing Laurent Rivard, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry would be tough for any program to handle, much less one from the Ivy League. And that doesn’t include the possibility of forward Wesley Saunders leaving early for the NBA or coach Tommy Amaker taking a big-time college job again (especially the one that’s open just across town at Boston College). Crimson fans should enjoy the pair of NCAA Tournament wins they picked up in the past two years, because you never know when a run like this is bound to come to an end.

Star of the Game: Michigan State’s Gary Harris – 18 points, five assists and one clutch three-pointer when Harvard seemed to have clawed its way back into the game.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 San Diego State 63, #12 North Dakota State 44

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 22nd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Thames Was Unstoppable on Saturday

Xavier Thames Was Unstoppable on Saturday

  1. Xavier Thames is a true X-factor. The San Diego State senior guard is the only thing that separates the Aztecs from mediocrity, but his abilities as a shooter and distributor were too much for North Dakota State to handle tonight. The former Washington State guard lit up Spokane for 30 points while also dishing out six assists. Notwithstanding the ridiculous play of Adreian Payne, this was the performance of the subregional so far. He was unstoppable on pick-and-rolls and hit three-pointers when the Bison defense sagged. When double-teams came, he found open teammates.
  2. Taylor Braun’s legs were gone. The Bison’s best player left Thursday’s win over Oklahoma looking as beaten up as a prize-fighter who took the title in 15 rounds. The beating he took showed in his performance on Saturday, shooting 1-of-10 in the first half and 2-of-14 overall, finishing with just seven points. North Dakota State needed a far better performance from its senior stud, who averaged 18.0 points per game coming into Saturday’s game.
  3. It’s Saul over. North Dakota’s Cinderella run stops at one, which means eminently quotable coach Saul Phillips won’t be heard on a national stage. (Next year’s probably not great either, as Braun and center Marshall Bjorklund both graduate.) But hey, on the bright side, not winning two games may mean less media attention and prominence and more of a chance of Phillips sticking around in Fargo for another season.

Star of the Game: San Diego State’s defense. The Aztecs held the nation’s best-shooting team to 31.3 percent shooting from the field. The Bison got eight offensive rebounds and only turned the ball over six times, but still finished with just 44 points. If San Diego State’s defense continues to show up like this, a Final Four might be within reach.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 San Diego State 73, #13 New Mexico State 69 (OT)

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. He wrote this story after San Diego State’s 73-69 win Thursday night over New Mexico State.

Three Key Takeaways.

Sim Bhullar and His Aggie Friends

Sim Bhullar and His Aggie Friends Gave SDSU All It Wanted Tonight

  1. Overdosing on X. San Diego State leans heavily on its lone offensive play-maker, guard Xavier Thames, who made his return to the Inland Northwest after transferring over from Washington State (now hiring). The senior had 23 points on 6-of-17 shooting and played 43 of 45 minutes, aided in part by late fouls from New Mexico State as they chased the lead both in regulation and overtime. Thames is the only Aztec capable of getting into the lane with regularity, which could be problematic if this team runs across a lockdown defender in the upcoming rounds. The Aztecs only shot 39 percent from the field for the game; the Aggies shot 40 percent despite not being known for their field goal prowess.
  2. Big trouble ahead? San Diego State never trailed in the game, but still were taken to overtime by a New Mexico State team that trailed 32-20 at halftime and had its starting center, Sim Bhullar, pick up three fouls in the first half. They missed free throws, blew defensive assignments, dropped an inbounds pass, and gave up two clean looks to the Aggies’ Kevin Aronis for tying three-pointers at the end of regulation (the second of which he hit). With a North Dakota State team awaiting that has a similar interior presence but is coupled with much better outside shooting, Saturday will be another difficult test for the Aztecs.
  3. New Mexico State is built to win big in a small conference. The Aggies’ bruising, offensive-rebounding-reliant style of play is great against WAC schools, as evidenced by its four NCAA Tournament bids since 2010. But this was only the second of those games that ended within 10 points (a 70-67 loss to Michigan State in Spokane in 2010 was the other). Their plodding big men are vulnerable to major-conference athletes and their guards oftentimes aren’t good enough perimeter shooters to punish teams for overloading on their big men. Or their INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN, the 7’5” Bhullar.

Star of the Game: Xavier Thames, San Diego State. His 23 points and five assists both led all players; he also had two blocked shots despite playing point guard.

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Rushed Reactions: #12 North Dakota State 80, #5 Oklahoma 75 (OT)

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion. Kenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. He wrote this after 12-seed North Dakota beat 5-seed Oklahoma 80-75 in Spokane on Thursday evening.

Three Key Takeaways.

Celebrate North Dakota, your team is headed for the Round of 32. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Celebrate North Dakota, your team is headed for the Round of 32. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  1. “WE’RE STAYING HERE.” North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips wants you to know that he’s not ready to leave the Pacific Northwest just yet, and he wanted his fans to know that too, coming over to visit the Bison faithful after the game ended. The best game of the Spokane sub-regional went down to the wire – twice. North Dakota State came back from three points down with 20 seconds to go to force overtime, then came out and ran Oklahoma off the court in overtime, despite star guard Taylor Braun fouling out halfway through the extra period.
  2. North Dakota State is one of the nation’s best-shooting teams for a reason. The Bison came into Spokane with the nation’s fifth-best effective field-goal percentage and hit that target again, with an effective field goal rate better than 60 percent despite stars Braun and Marshall Bjorklund being contained well. The pair combined for just 24 points, but guard Lawrence Alexander picked up the slack for them with 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Also, a 20-of-22 performance from the free throw line certainly helped their cause.
  3. Cameron Clark showed up at the biggest possible time. The Oklahoma forward carried his team’s offense late in the game, jump-starting it with a shot after an eight-plus-minute field-goal drought, putting the Sooners within two with three minutes to go. From then through the end of regulation, he had seven of his team’s nine points, and finished with 25.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan State 93, #13 Delaware 78

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. He wrote this after 4-seed Michigan State beat 13-seed Delaware 93-78 in Spokane on Thursday afternoon.

Three Key Takeaways.

Adreian Payne Put On a Superstar Show on Thursday in Spokane

Adreian Payne Put On a Superstar Show on Thursday in Spokane

  1. Adreian Payne played the best half of basketball I’ve ever seen in person. Michigan State’s star forward hit back-to-back three-pointers in the first half, then went inside for an old-fashioned three-point play, taking the game from Michigan State six-point lead to 33-18 in two minutes, then capped his personal 12-0 run with another three-pointer. He finished the first half with 23 points on 6-of-8 three-point shooting and was perfect on four three-pointers and seven free throws. Just outstanding.
  2. Delaware got the pace it wanted. The Blue Hens came into the game with the 10th-fastest tempo in the nation and the Spartans were somewhat below average in their game speed. The 93-78 score reflects the up-and-down nature of this battle. Unfortunately for Delaware, there wasn’t much else that went the Blue Hens’ way, as a four-guard team built on shooting the ball made only 20-of-54 field goals. Don’t let the Blue Hens’ 78 points fool you; the Spartans had a strong defensive showing here today.
  3. Will they get the lights replaced in Spokane Arena by the time the next game tips off? The Spartans shot 53 percent from the field, 53 percent from three-point range, and 92 percent from the free-throw line this afternoon. Granted, defense isn’t exactly Delaware’s forte, but even still, this result should send chills down the spine of any team that may have to face the Spartans down the line in the East Region.

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Rushed Reactions: #12 Harvard 61, #5 Cincinnati 57

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion, @RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. He filed this story after 12-seed Harvard upset 5-seed Cincinnati, 61-57, on Thursday afternoon.

Harvard's Siyani Chambers, right, leaps into the arms of teammate Brandyn Curry after the team beat Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA college basketball tournament in Spokane, Wash., Thursday, March 20, 2014. Harvard won 61-57. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Harvard’s Siyani Chambers, right, leaps into the arms of teammate Brandyn Curry after the team upset Cincinnati on Thursday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Cincinnati is nothing without Sean Kilpatrick. Despite being the focus of the Harvard’s defense all game, the Bearcats’ guard led his team with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting. The Crimson controlled his opportunities with the ball, holding him to four field goal attempts in the entire second half. But only one other player scored in double figures, forward Justin Jackson, who went 5-of-14 from the field. The Bearcats ended up shooting 21-of-56 as a team and had 11 turnovers, and were nearly unwatchable offensively for much of the game. So, the usual for Mick Cronin’s offense.
  2. Harvard’s frontcourt can bang with anybody. Cincinnati is one of the roughest and toughest teams in the country, relying on its bruising interior play to set Kilpatrick free on the perimeter. But Crimson starters Steve Mondou-Missi, Kyle Casey and Wesley Saunders combined for 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting, and Mondou-Missi and Casey both had rim-rattling slams. Defensively, they held Jackson and Titus Rubles to 8-of-23 shooting. The rebounding margin came out even at the end of the game, too.
  3. You might want to watch Laurent Rivard. The senior sniper for the Crimson had three three-pointers in three shots in the first half, picked up a couple more points in the second half and found himself in a couple clutch situations, saving the ball off of a Cincinnati player under his own basket, then picked up a heads-up steal after a missed free throw. It was fitting that he caught the lofted inbounds pass as time expired, then sprinted straight to his team’s bench to celebrate.

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Who Won The Week? Louisville, Marcus Smart, Michigan and The Citadel…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.

WINNER: Louisville

Russ Smith won Louisville's game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.


Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.

(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)

LOSER: Saint Louis

The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?

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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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We’re #351! Southern Utah Keeps Hope High in Trying Season

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 24th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He filed this article Thursday night after Southern Utah and Eastern Washington played at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Jumpers snap through the net. Thunderous dunks shake the basket and stanchion. Crisp passes fly around the court, sometimes two or three at a time. Laughter accompanies the occasional goofy or errant shot. The Southern Utah Thunderbirds are loose, just in time for tip-off. You’d never know the team was riding a 14-game losing streak, or that they were the worst team in Division I in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.

A Southern Utah player goes up for a slam dunk early in pregame warmups against Eastern Washington in Cheney, Wash. (Kenny Ocker/Rush The Court)

A Southern Utah player goes up for a slam dunk early in pregame warmups against Eastern Washington in Cheney, Wash. (Kenny Ocker/Rush The Court)

“Yesterday is history,” that’s what Thunderbirds coach Nick Robinson said Thursday morning as an evening tip-off against the Eastern Washington Eagles in Cheney, Washington, awaited his team. “There’s nothing you can do about it, whether it’s practice or a game, and you have to focus on what’s going on right now. We try to send that message to our team constantly.” That’s a tall order when your team struggles to hit 35 percent of the shots it takes, when opposing teams hit 50 percent of the shots they take against you, when you turn the ball over one out of each five possessions. But Robinson has his team’s attention, regardless of their 0-14 record against Division I schools. Keeping his players engaged is paramount; there might not be a Division I team with less experience than the Thunderbirds’ 10 combined seasons among their 13 players.

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Is Dominic Artis’ Return the Source Of Oregon’s Woes?

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 23rd, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court.

The most painful moment of Oregon’s four-game losing streak was prescient. Trailing Stanford 82-80 with just four seconds left earlier this month, the Ducks’ Dominic Artis grabbed a rebound from a missed free throw and streaked down the garishly painted Matthew Knight Arena court. Driving left, Artis leaned back to his right and attempted a finger-roll layup, but it bounced off the rim as time expired, and the Ducks fell by two points, their two-game hiccup turning into a four-game problem. After an undefeated 13-0 start to its season and attaining a top-10 ranking in the Associated Press poll, Oregon has had the wheels fall right off its proverbial cart, plummeting from national view in the span of about two weeks. Much of the blame has been directed at the Ducks’ interior defense, but another factor plays into their poor Pac-12 play: the return of Artis, the sophomore point guard who missed the first nine games of the season for selling team apparel online.

It's been tough sledding lately for Dominic Artis and the Ducks. (AP)

Oregon point guard Dominic Artis has only scored in double figures three times in the last calendar year. (AP)

The Oakland, California, native, had a strong start to his freshman campaign last season, tallying an offensive rating above 120 in seven of the 19 games he started and played before missing a month of the season with a foot injury. But since that injury, Artis’ offense has been missing in action. He only had one game (out of nine) in the rest of 2013 in which he played more than half of the minutes with offensive ratings above average, and this season has been no better, with only three above-average performances out of eight games played (including just one in Oregon’s four consecutive losses). Put more succinctly: Artis has had a total of three games in which he scored in double-figures in 17 games since returning from injury last season; he had 14 in the 19 prior to getting hurt.

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Oregon State Finds Success By Swapping Starting Point Guards

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 23rd, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a Northwest-based national columnist for Rush The Court and filed this report Wednesday night from Washington State’s Friel Court in Pullman.

Craig Robinson might have just figured it out just in time to make something of this Pac-12 season. The Oregon State coach, who has struggled for consistent point guard play since taking over in Corvallis back in 2008, has given the reins of the offense to freshman guard Hallice Cooke in the last four games, and it’s paid immediate dividends. After a middling non-conference performance that included losses to Coppin State, DePaul and Hawaii, and an 0-2 start to conference play, Robinson put Cooke in the starting lineup in place of junior Challe Barton, and the Beavers (11-7, 3-3 Pac-12) have looked like a different team.

Oregon State point guard Hallice Cooke (#3) has started the last four games, in which the Beavers have gone 3-1. (AP)

Oregon State point guard Hallice Cooke (#3) has started the last four games, in which the Beavers have gone 3-1. (AP)

Let’s not forget that Oregon State shooting guard Roberto Nelson is the top-scoring player in the Pac-12, putting in more than 21 points per night, and the Beavers’ interior triumvirate of Angus Brandt, Eric Moreland, and Devon Collier each average more than 10 points per game themselves. Cooke doesn’t have to do a lot to help his team. But his skill set – the third-best three-point shooting rate in the country at nearly 56 percent, and the team’s second-best assist rate behind Nelson – fits well within the construct of a team led by three inside scorers and a perimeter scorer (Nelson) who commands double-teams. The Beavers have a 3-1 record in games in which Cooke has started, including home upsets of Stanford and Oregon, and a 66-55 road win at Washington State on Wednesday night.

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Dominic Artis Shines in Season Debut For Oregon

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 18th, 2013

There was some question as to how the Oregon Ducks would reintegrate returning suspended sophomores Dominic Artis and Ben Carter into an offense that was statistically one of the most efficient in the country. If the Ducks play as they did in the pair’s return Tuesday night against UC Irvine, that topic will quickly be rendered moot. Oregon came out and drained its first five three-pointers during a 30-7 run early in the first half, two of which Artis assisted on, and took a 48-29 lead into halftime in Eugene during an eventual 91-63 win.

Dominic Artis Looked Good in His 2013-14 Debut

Dominic Artis Looked Good in His 2013-14 Debut

Like many other games for Oregon this season, the scoring load was spread around and the shooting was strong, both from inside the arc and three-point range. Artis and Carter each played bit parts as coach Dana Altman works them into his rotation – the former scored five points and had eight rebounds and three assists; the latter four points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals – while four players finished in double figures, led by senior transfers Joseph Young, who had 18 on 7-of-10 shooting, and Mike Moser, who had 15 points and six rebounds while making 3-of-4 three-point attempts.

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