In a near carbon copy of most of the season, Oregon St. was again engaged in a competitive game, and in it all the way, only to come up short at the end, losing to Colorado by a couple of possession in their first round Pac-12 Tournament game Wednesday at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.
It was a streaky game of runs, in which both teams played well at times, but in the end, the Buffs were better more of the time than the Beavers.
The deciding factor was Colorado free throw shooting, especially in the last 3 minutes of the game. The Buffs were 23 of 32 at the line, including 15 of 20 in the final 3 minutes, beginning with 9 straight that kept the Beavers at arms' length, preventing Oregon St. from rallying close enough to ever make it a 1 possession game.
Fans got an idea of things to come early on as Colorado went on an early 9-3 run, only to have Oregon St. answer with a 10-2 run of their own, tieing the game midway in the first half at 11-11 on an Eric Moreland dunk, and taking a 14-11 lead on Challe Barton's 3 pointer.
The Buffs charged back with a 12-2 run, and after Colorado took a 15-14 run with 8:47 left before the break, the Beavers would never lead again.
That didn't mean the game was over at the end of that point, though. Oregon St., having gone scoreless for 4 minutes while Colorado was leaping to a 23-16 lead, suddenly came to life offensively again, with a 7-0 surge of their own to tie the game at 23 apiece, on a Devon Collier dunk with 4 1/2 minutes left in the half.
The Beavers contributed considerably to the Buffs' 7-0 run to halftime, with 3 consecutive turnovers, the last coming just in time for Colorado's Spencer Dinwiddie to hit a mid-court shot at the buzzer to make it 32-26 Buffs at the break.
Dinwiddie's late long bomb elevated him to a tie for the lead in scoring at that point with his teammate XavierJohnson, both of whom had 8 points at that point.
Collier led the Beavers to the locker room with 7 points, and though Moreland only had 5 points, he had grabbed 8 boards. That was instrumental in keeping Oregon St. as close as they were, as Joe Burton, Oregon St.'s lone senior, was scoreless and boardless in the first half.
Colorado, who had been without Andre Roberson, the nation's leading rebounder and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in their 64-58 loss to Oregon St. last Saturday in the regular season finale, had his services back for this game, and though he had only 2 first half points, he did have a game to date high 9 rebounds. Coupled with a half dozen by Johnson, the Buffs were already working on the second major game determining advantage they would have beyond their free throw shooting edge.
"Having them come into our building and beat us on senior day got these guys' attention," Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said. "We have respect for Oregon State. They have talented basketball players. I don't know what's missing but their record is not reflective of their talent."
Oregon St.'s latest shooting slump extended into the second half, and so did Colorado's run, which went to 9-0, as the Beavers went nearly 5 minutes without scoring on both sides of the break.
But just when it looked like things were bleak for the surprisingly good turnout of Beaver fans, led by A.C. Green, Gary Payton, and the Oregon St. band, the Beavers rallied again, sparked by early platooning for offense and defense that head coach Craig Robinson was already engaging in.
Nelson reprised a late season knack of his of drawing a foul while shooting a 3 pointer and proceeding to knock down all 3 free throws. This time, it pulled Oregon St. back within 38-37. However, Dinwiddie answered with back to back 3 point plays of his own, the first a conventional made 3 point shot, and then copying Nelson's tactic, and proceeding to drain all 3 free throws to put the Buffs back up 44-37 with 12 1/2 minutes left.
Poor shooting persisted for Oregon St., as they went 4 1/2 minutes with only a pair of Moreland free throws, until a Burton basket with 5:50 left cut what had been an 11 point deficit back down to 53-44, as Nelson and Ahmad Starks were a combined 4 of 20 from the field at that point.
At the 5 minute mark that's been the line of delineation all season between the Beavers being almost unbeatable or totally incapable of pulling out the win, Colorado was up 46-53, and shortly after, it became a 10 point game again, on an Askia Booker 3 pointer.
It was still a 10 point game at the 3 minute mark, after another Buff 3 pointer, this one by Roberson, and Colorado went up 61-43 with 2:43 remaining.
That meant it was time for yet another Beaver rally, as Starks nailed a pair of 3 pointers to spark an 8-2 run, and Moreland's 3 pointer with 1:42 left secured a double double for him.
With Oregon St. employing all their timeouts, and then turning to fouls, it took almost a half hour to play the final 5 minutes of the game, but the Beavers were never able to get closer than 4 points, on Nelson's last basket with 9 seconds left, as Colorado's free throw shooting earned the win, and advanced the Buffs to a second round game against Arizona.
Colorado (21-10) will be attempting to repeat last year's feat of winning 4 straight Pac-12 Tournament games to claim the conference championship, and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Dinwiddie co-led all scorers, with 20 points, including 9 of 11 on free throws. Johnson and Roberson added 16 and 12 points respectively for Colorado, and Josh Scott led the Buffs on the boards, with 10, though Johnson and Roberson combined for 15 more.
The Buffs finished with a 37-30 rebounding edge, including a 15-9 advantage on the offensive glass.
"I think the real thing that had hurt us were the second-chance points and offensive rebounds," Robinson said. "We played them at their place and we did a great job on the boards. We did not do as good of a job this time around."
Nelson matched Dinwiddie, also with 20 points, though he was only 6 of 18 for the game. Moreland's double double included a game high 13 rebounds, and 14 points, and Collier was also in double digits, with 13 points.
Burton, who finished his career as the only Beaver ever with over 1,000 points, 700 rebounds, and 300 assists, bowed out with an uncharacteristically unproductive day, relative to most of his games down the stretch, with just 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Burton did tie Josh Tarver for most games played for the Beavers today, with 130.
As little as 3 weeks ago, it seemed assured that this would be the first ever Oregon St. team to have 4 players with 1,000 points, but Starks' late season scoring slump continued today, which had a lot to do with the Beavers not being able to repeat last year's first round win that started a run to the tournament semi-finals. Starks finished with just 8 points, on 3 of 10 shooting, and finished the season 9 points shy of the 1,000 mark.
Robinson said that the Beavers would not accept an invitation to the CBI tournament this season if one were to be received.
"These guys want to be NCAA Tournament guys," Robinson said. "I don't know with our record if we'd even be invited (to the CBI). But we are raising the bar, and we want to feel the sting of not playing in the postseason for the first time and see how that motivates us for next year."
Finishing with a 14-18 mark, and more importantly having finished the season on a 5-16 skid since the Towson debacle on Alamo Bowl day, it seems unlikely such an invite would be forthcoming.