Final Score: Oregon St. 71 Montana 46
It took a little while to get their offense rolling, but ultimately Oregon St.'s depth and speed translated into an easy win over Montana from the Big Sky Conference. The victory avenged the 71-66 loss the Beavers suffered last year on the Grizzlies' floor.
Midway in the first half, Roberto Nelson's jumper opened a 14-9 Oregon St. lead. But while the Beavers were figuring out what the Grizz were doing, their defense was playing solid, as they did most of the game, giving them the time to get in gear. By halftime, Oregon St. had pulled out to 34-21 lead.
Montana got within 9 points on Will Cherry's second consecutive basket 3 minutes after the halftime break, but that was as close as they would get. Oregon St. went on a 20-4 run from then until midway in the second half, and cruised home.Ahmad Starks led all scorers, with 16 points, largely because he snapped out of his early season outside shooting slump, which had him mired below 25% from 3 point range. Starks sank 4 of 7 3s, 57%, and made 5 of 10 shots total, which was critical, as the Beavers overall were only 40% on 3's , which was better than they were from inside the arc.
Considering they also got out-rebounded on both ends of the floor, the easy double digit win really underscored the importance of their defense, and also passing; 16 of Oregon St.'s baskets came with an assist.
Jared Cunningham continued to compile his human highlight reel, and not just with his offense. Cunningham finished with 14 points, but also had a spectacular flying blocked shot.
Eric Moreland came off the bench for 3 blocks, and Devon Collier, who was also in double figures with 10 points, had a pair of rejections as well. Moreland continues to impress with his athleticism, needing mostly minutes and reps to develop consistency. Collier is already coming up with consistent numbers at the forward position. They could certainly stand to be better most nights, but he's not disappearing games either. So while his ceiling still needs to rise, his floor has become pretty solid.
Nelson only played 18 minutes, but had solid overall production, scoring 11 points, but also grabbing 5 rebounds, handing out 5 assists, and snagged a steal.
Angus Brandt had 7 points, but that included a key three pointer, and also had 2 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals, in just 16 minutes.
The somewhat limited minutes several players posted were in part a product of Oregon St. being able to go 8-9 players deep with their rotations.
Cunningham narrowly out-dueled Cherry statistically, who is also from Oakland, and had 13 points, the only Grizz to get into double digits at anything. And the numbers were close at halftime as well. But without consulting the stat sheet, and just watching the game, it was a surprise to see that, as it seemed like Cunningham had the better game. Probably because of the flair with which Cunningham is playing.
Head coach Craig Robinson was happy with the win, and the effort level, which was good to see, after a layoff of over a week. How the Beavers would respond after a long layoff, and just before entering finals week, was a question entering the game, and that could partially account for the tepid shooting they experienced. That their defense was up to par, and carry them despite streaky shooting, was a good sign.
"We approached this game as a really important game," Robinson said. "This was a team that had beaten a really good Long Beach State team who ended beating some good teams. They are closest physically to a Pac-12 team. They have good size, they have decent speed and they have a good guard. We wanted to use this as a barometer to where we stood with teams like this. It was a really good test for us this time and I thought the guys did a really good job."
Robinson wanted to see how his team measured up against Cherry, a Pac-12 quality guard, and also a team that, if not necessarily one with deep quality, was physically dimensioned more like a lot of Pac-12 opponents than some of the teams Oregon St. has faced so far.
The win improved Oregon St. to 6-1 on the season. The Beavers will now be off again until Friday night, after finals, when they continue their 5 game home stand against Idaho. The game will again be televised by ROOT Sports NW, and start at 7 PM.
The Vandals, from the WAC, are 4-3 at the moment, after defeating Cal-Davis 94-74 Saturday night. Idaho hosts their neighborhood rival Washington St. Wednesday night.