Roberto Nelson equaled his career high of 34 points, including a blistering 16 points in just over 8 minutes to start the second half, to lead Oregon St. to a 10 point win over Chicago St. Sunday night.
The Cougars, who are bound for the WAC next year, after the dissolution of the Great West Conference, came out physical, jumping to a 9-3 lead, forcing an early Beaver timeout. Oregon St. head coach Craig Robinson was looking for a physical test for the team, and he got it.
Similar to what they had to do against Portland St., Oregon St. broke out their 1-3-1 zone defense after the first tv timeout, and it took until over 7 minutes into the game for the Beavers to catch up. After a pair of 3 pointers by Nelson, Joe Burton finally forged a tie at 17 all.
"I have to apologize to the fans for our effort in the first half," Robinson said post game. "I've gotta get these guys ready to go."
Oregon St. took their first multi-point leads on consecutive Olaf Schaftenaar 3 pointers, off of feeds by Burton, at the 8:35 and 7:37 marks, and the Beavers' first double digit lead came with 4:11 to go to halftime, on a Devon Collier layup, and Collier, who led all scorers in the first half, with 15 points, on 6 of 8 shooting, capped a 14-2 Beaver run that produced the largest lead of the first half, as Oregon St. went up 39-26.
Collier went out after a hard foul, though, and wouldn't return until several minutes into the second half, nursing both a sore wrist and a gimpy ankle.
Chicago St. rallied to within 44-36 at the break, led by Quinton Pippen, the nephew of Scottie Pippen, who hit 3 of 5 3 pointers, and 5 of 9 shots, for 13 points. Pippen also had 7 first half rebounds. Nelson was already up to 12 points, on 4 of 6 shooting, including 3 of 4 from 3 point range.
Eric Moreland, Nelson, and Burton combined to re-open a 12 point lead less than 2 minutes into the second half, and then Nelson proceeded to try to shoot out what few lights in dark Gill Coliseum still work.
A Nelson 3 pointer pushed the lead to 57-41, and another to 60-43. Nelson equaled his season high of 28 points with another 3 pointer that made it 68-47 Beavers with still 11:56 to go, the largest lead in the game to that point. Nelson was 8 of 11 from the field, and 6 of 7 from 3 point range, at that juncture. Nelson's only miss from behind the arc all night was a 30 footer late in the first half.
"I was trying to get the ball down to Joe, and couldn't," Nelson explained. "Joe yelled 'Shoot it - I'll get it', so I did. He did, and put it back in."
Oregon St. went small for defense and ball handling, and it took until there was just less than 8 minutes left when Challe Barton's layup opened what would be the largest lead of the game, putting the Beavers up 75-52.
Nelson reached 30 points with 5:54 left, putting Oregon St. up 79-57, but Chicago St, answered with a 7-0 run. The end of the game got very long and very sloppy, as Robinson elected to use his younger players, and the Cougars finished with a 25-12 run at their expense, though they never got closer than 9 points, and a pair of free throws with 9 seconds left that elevated Nelson's total to 32 points meant one last Cougar basket made the final 87-77.
"I wanted to see what our 2nd unit could do," Robinson explained. "It was a learning exercise for all of us."
Nelson wound up hitting 10 of 14 shots from the field, and also knocked down 8 of 12 free throws.
"The bigs did a good job early establishing themselves down in the paint", Nelson explained, "and that opened up a lot of easy shots for me."
Collier was the only other Beaver in double figures, finishing with 25 points off the bench, on 10 of 15 shooting, and hopefully ending the Jarmal Reid experiment in the starting lineup. Reid finished with only 1 point, and 4 rebounds, and Robinson's post game remarks suggests he's recognizing the attempts to make a starter out of Reid aren't working.
"I really like Devon in the 6th. man role," Robinson said, "but it might be time for me to try a different lineup."
Besides having trouble starting and ending the game, Oregon St.'s biggest problem remains finding backcourt production beyond Nelson. For the second game in a row, Ahmad Starks was totally ineffective, missing all 5 shots he took, and finishing with 0 points. And its not just his shooting; Starks had only 1 rebound and no assists.
Starks' defense is off as well, as he had only 2 steals, and was repeatedly taken advantage of, and was ultimately taken out. Starks played only 3 minutes in the second half.
"I think he's under the weather, and not fessing up to it," Robinson concluded. "He's a warrior, and won't admit to it, but he was coughing and winded. I've got to be more attuned to that sooner."
With Starks sidelined much of the night, Barton played 27 minutes, serving up 6 assists, and scoring 5 points. However, he also suffered 4 turnovers.
"I'll take the blame for that," Robinson said. "I left him in after he got tired."
Burton also played limited minutes in the second half, finishing with 7 points and 7 rebounds, all of which he had in the first half, but that was an intentional move by Robinson, who has acknowledged he needs to manage Burton's minutes, making sure he doesn't run out of gas in stretches like this week, where the Beavers have 3 games in 7 days, and also as the season wears on.
Defensively, Oregon St.'s second half adjustments were effective, as Pippen was shut out after half time. Further, Jeremy Robinson, Chicago St.'s leading scorer, was held to 2 points for the night.
Similar to Collier, Nate Duhon came off the Cougars' bench, with a team high 18 points, the only Chicago St. player besides Pippen in double digits. Matt Ross had a game high 10 rebounds for the Cougars, and just missed a double double, posting 9 points.
A crowd of 4,183, heavily bolstered by the free admission extended to the youngsters that are enrolled in the Gen Beavs program, turned out on a cold, stormy afternoon.
Oregon St. improved to 7-2 for the season, and next host the 3-8 Howard Bison (or is that Howard the Bison?) Wesnesday night at 7 PM at Gill Coliseum, before heading to Las Vegas to play San Diego on Saturday.
Chicago St. fell to 3-9 with the loss. The Cougars were clearly improved over the team that Oregon St. destroyed 92-66 last year, but this is a school with an enrollment of 6.000 that has had 1 winning season in the last 25, and until they move to the WAC next year, play in a conference whose' winner gets a guaranteed bid in the College Basketball Insider tournament, not the NCAA. Even given Starks' illness and Robinson's desire to play his younger players extensively, this was a game the Beavers should have dominated early and late as they did for a while in the first half, and early in the second half.