Final Score: Oregon St. 80 Western Illinois 59
Western Illinois was not ready for Oregon St.'s Jared Cunningham. A couple of the Leathernecks knew the Beavers Ahmad Starks, who is from Chicago, and had played them in high school. As a result, they focused their efforts early on Starks. In the process, they lost track of Cunningham a few times. They relocated him soon enough though, right where everyone in the Pac-12 would think to look, hanging out above the rim.
Cunningham had 18 of his game high 22 points in the first half, including the night's first contribution to the Cunningham season long highlight video, a dunk of a long lob from Starks, and a breakaway layin off his steal, which were a part of a 12-0 run that took only two and a half minutes, and extended what had been an early 4-2 Oregon St. lead into a 16-2 game just 4 minutes into the game.
Western Illinois adjusted though, and while Oregon St.'s lead only shrunk to as few as 9 points twice, it took until the under 8 minute media timeout in the second half before the Beavers were able to open their advantage to 20 points.
It was too late, however, as the early run by the Beavers turned the last 3/4 of the game into an anti-climatic exercise that even took the energy out of much of the small crowd of 1,931, not to mention the Leathernecks.
Angus Brandt, above, was another unanticipated problem at the start of the game for Western Illinois, who had half of those first 16 points, including the 3 pointer that capped the early run. Brandt, right, finished with 10 points, on 4 of 5 shooting, again relatively well defended most of the night, but not until it was too late.
In defense of Western Illinois, who had no clue they would be playing Oregon St. until late Sunday night, 1 day of preparation for the likes of Cunningham and Brandt isn't going to work. The Leathernecks were faced with a travel nightmare on short notice, with the team flying on 3 different flights into Portland, with some members not arriving until well after midnight.
Western Illinois finally figured out a way to slow Jared Cunningham down.
However, it resulted in the Leathernecks getting into foul trouble.
Oregon St. made 15 of 17 free throws, 88%, while the Leathernecks were only
2 of 4 at the line for the entire game.
Compounding the problem, Western Illinois was shorthanded, after a player quit the team following the conclusion of the Summit League Tournament Championship, where they lost to South Dakota St. 52-50 in overtime, and head coach Jim Molinari also had to suspend 2 other players indefinitely. Those missing in inaction included Tommy Tyler, half the usual starting back court.
And it got worse for the Leathernecks when center Terell Parks picked up 3 fouls well before halftime, and then accrued another less than 4 minutes into the second half. A turned ankle cost him some more minutes shortly after that.
As a result, the undersized Western Illinois front court struggled with the Oregon St. front line. In addition to Brandt's 10 points, Devon Collier, above, had 12 points, Joe Burton, below, finished with 8 points, on 4 of 4 shooting. 8 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block, despite some early foul trouble of his own.
Also, Eric Moreland disrupted the Leathernecks with 5 blocked shots, and twice as many altered shots.
Even when Western Illinois' Terell Parks thought he had gotten a good look,
he would be in for a surprise from behind, as Eric Moreland prepares to block his shot.
The Beavers dominated the boards, grabbing 37 rebounds to just 15 for the Leathernecks.
In addition to his 22 points, Cunningham finished with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and a blocked shot.
Starks eventually finished with 16 points, on 6 of 12 shooting, and including a 3 pointer that gave Oregon St. their largest lead of the game, going up 76-51 with 3 minutes left.
It also gave Starks, above, 78 3 pointers for the season, the most ever for any Oregon St. sophomore, and putting him second all time for a single season, trailing only Gary Payton's school record of 82.
Oregon St. played without senior Captain Kevin McShane, out with a hip pointer suffered in the Arizona game, and also Rhys Murphy, who had a swollen knee. Both are expected back for the CBI quarterfinals next week.
The win elevated Oregon St.s record to 20-14, the 25th time they have reached that milestone, but the first time the Beavers have won 20 games in 22 years, since the 1989-90 season, when Payton was still playing for them.
"It hasn't sunk in yet because we are just so focused on one game at a time," Oregon St. head coach Craig Robinson said. "It's really a cool milestone, and something that this team and program should really be proud of."
"Twenty wins is a milestone no matter where you are," Robinson added, "but in a place that hasn't done it since 1989-90, that is really something special. I am happy for Beaver Nation that they are excited about it, I am happy for the OSU community, I'm happy for the team, and I am really happy for my staff. Those guys put in a lot of time and work for us to get to 20 wins. It's an important milestone."
The Beavers had their best shooting night of the season, making 30 of 46 shots, 65%, which topped the 63% they hit in the win over California.
Western Illinoins was led by Don McAvoy, above, who averages less than 3 points per game, but took advantage of the opportunity afforded him by the absences of the other players with a career high 19 points off the bench. Ceola Clark was the only other Leatherneck in double figures, with 11 points.
In the small world department, McAvoy is from the same Mt Caramel High that Robinson hails from, and Molinari recruited Robinson when he was in school there.
The Leathernecks finished their season with an 18-15 record.
Besides the Beavers' fast start and season best shooting, the other key to the game that kept the Leathernecks in the game early, and only down 44-34 at halftime, but allowed Oregon St. to pull away in the second half, was Western Illinois' 3 point shooting.
The Leathernecks hit 6 of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half, most undefended, but they cooled off to make only 3 of 8 after the break. Tiring legs had more to do with it than any Oreogn St. adjustments. Weak side defense has to be the single most important thing the Beavers must work on in the offseason.
But in the end, it came down to the fact that Oregon St. wanted to play the game in the 80s, and Western Illinois in the 50s. Both got their wish, which meant it will be the Beavers who move on.
Oregon St. will host TCU, (18-14, 7-7 in the Mt. West Conference) Monday night at 7 PM. The Horned Frogs outdistanced Milwaukee 83-73 Tuesday evening.
Cue the fight song!
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)