An ugly start to the game wouldn’t end up mattering one bit, because in March it’s simply survive and advance, and that’s what the Beavers did on Saturday, when they knocked off Loyola Chicago, 65-58, to advance to the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
The trip to the final eight will be the program’s first since 1982 — a vacated run by the NCAA — or 1966 (if you prefer to play by stricter policies). Regardless, the Beavers advancing is simply another amazing step for a team picked to finish 12th in the conference’s preseason poll. Oregon State is now just the second 12th seed ever to make the Elite Eight in NCAA Tournament history.
In Saturday’s win over Loyola Chicago, it was Ethan Thompson once again who led the way, as he tallied 21 points, four assists and four rebounds, including a 7-for-7 day from the free-throw line. In the game, the senior guard also passed legend AC Green on the program’s all-time scoring list.
Helping Thompson was forward Warith Alatishe, who added a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double, and clutch shooter Jarod Lucas, who knocked down two crucial three-pointers en route to finishing with eight points. Oregon State was also aided by a much-needed 15-8 bench points advantage, as nine different players for the Beavers found their way into the scoring column.
For Loyola Chicago, star forward Cameron Krutwig finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while guard Lucas Williamson added 10 points and seven rebounds and Braden Norris chipped in 10 points and six assists.
The first half would not be one described by basketball critics as a “work of art” in any way, as both teams shot a combined 12 for 47 from the field and added 11 turnovers, including the Ramblers finishing the first twenty minutes with one less field goal than giveaway (4 FG’s, 5 TO’s).
Overall, Loyola Chicago shot 17% from the field and went 1-9 from behind the arc in a truly dreadful shooting display. They also failed to score in the final 4:52 of the period, fueling an 11-0 run by the Beavers.
The Ramblers also struggled with foul trouble, as starters Lucas Williamson, Aher Uguak and Keith Clemsons all had at least two knocks against them. While big man Cameron Krutwig was solid with 6 points on a 3-5 shooting performance, his teammates were just 1-18 against the Beavers’ increasingly more-used zone defense, that held head coach Porter Moser’s team to just 16 points at the break, the lowest in any half this season for Loyola Chicago.
As for the Beavers, Oregon State received 10 points from star talent Ethan Thompson in the first frame and a surprise 9 points from their bench unit, including 4 points (2-3 FG) from Rodrigue Andela - a notable omission from their last round win over Oklahoma State - and a three-pointer from Tariq Silver. They also received a beautiful buzzer-beater on a great jump stop lay-in from forward Warith Alatishe, which brought even more positive momentum into the locker room for the Beavers.
Oregon State led 24-16 at the break, combining for a total of 40 points, the lowest cumulative amount scored at the half of any contest in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
The journey to the first media time-out proved that both Porter Moser and Wayne Tinkle had some half-time adjustments to make, as the Ramblers tried to discover more options to fix their offense besides Krutwig, but the Beavers also opened up their largest lead of the game to that point (11) on a three-pointer by Jarod Lucas at the 15:57 mark.
Loyola Chicago’s inability to dissect the Beavers zone continued to play a strong role in the flow of the game, as the Ramblers continued to press and opened offensive opportunities for Oregon State, including a three-quarter-court pass from Alatishe to Thompson for a breakaway dunk at the 12:42 mark, which gave the Beavers their new biggest advantage at 37-24.
But Loyola Chicago wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Their lack of made field goals was offset by their continued ability to get to the free-throw stripe, which put them in the bonus with 11:08 to play, despite being described as the “more physical” group going into the game. Two free throws made then by Marquise Kennedy cut Oregon State’s lead down to 37-30 before the 11-minute mark, yet versatile talent Uguak would pick up his own fourth personal foul on the ensuing possession, forcing Moser to bring him to the bench.
A bit of “offensive flow” - if you can even say that - followed next with the two teams trading buckets for the most watchable part of the battle, to head into an Oregon State timeout at the 7:47 mark with the Beavers leading, 45-37.
The next four minutes brought more offensive ineptitude, as Loyola went almost three minutes without scoring until a Braden Norris three-pointer broke their trend near the four-minute mark. Oregon State became increasingly stagnant during this spell, until Jarod Lucas opened up a 5-point lead at the 2:53 mark and down the stretch, a once terrible offensive game was finally finding some shot-making to hang it’s hat on.
Now it’s time for the timeline of the final two minutes:
1:50: A wild shot by Jarod Lucas on which he tries to draw a foul becomes a put-back by Warith Alatishe.
1:35: A drive by Kennedy for Loyola becomes an “and-one” scenario on a foul by Roman Silva.
1:08: A reset three by Lucas puts the lead at 56-49 in the Beavers favor.
57.7: Loyola’s Kennedy knocks down two free-throws after a common foul.
48.8: Alatishe is fouled after a Roman Silva turnover against the press. He hits both. 58-51 Beavers.
43.2: Alatishe kickball. Ramblers take the ball out of bounds against Oregon State’s 1-3-1 zone.
35.8: Thompson rebound off missed shot and fouled. Going to line up 58-51 and made two shots. Beavers up 9.
24.5: Williamson hits a three-pointer. Ramblers cut lead to 60-54. Timeout Loyola Chicago.
23.1: Reichle fouled. Made both FT’s. 62-54 Oregon State.
10.0: Krutwig putback cuts Oregon State lead to 62-56.
9.0: Reichle fouled. Splits the pair. 63-56 Oregon State.
3.2: Welch finished alley-oop. Cuts Beavers lead to 5.
2.2: Thompson fouled. Hits both free-throws. 65-58 Beavers.