OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — With just over 4 minutes remaining in the first half Friday night, Oregon star Joseph Young had missed every time he shot the ball and managed just two points.
By halftime, he had made a mockery of Oklahoma State’s stingy defense.
The Pac-12 player of the year scored 15 of his 27 points in a dazzling flurry, leading the eighth-seeded Ducks to a 79-73 win over the Cowboys in their NCAA Tournament opener.
“It’s just my teammates trusting me,” Young said. “They found me, got me the ball, set good screens, and I knocked down open shots. But I really commend my team for getting me open.”
Elgin Cook added 18 points and Dillon Brooks had 17 for the Ducks (26-9), who got a win for Dana Altman in his return to Omaha, where he once coached Creighton.
Up next is top-seeded Wisconsin, which beat Oregon in the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
“If we had won that game, we could have been in the Final Four,” Brooks said. “Who knows?”
Le’Bryan Nash had 18 points before fouling out in his final game for ninth-seeded Oklahoma State (18-14). Senior transfer Anthony Hickey added 17 points in his NCAA Tournament debut, and Phil Forte and Tavarius Shine finished with 12 points each.
“Give them credit, they’re a tough team to stop,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford, whose team lost seven of its last eight. “We tried a couple different things and they made shots.”
Nobody more than Young, who was the flashiest player on the floor — and that’s saying a lot considering the Ducks wore their neon yellow and the Cowboys their blazing orange.
Oklahoma State actually did a good job of keeping Young in check most of the first half, denying him the ball and then clamping down when he finally got it. But when they loosened up just before the break, Young went on a roll.
He started by draining a 3-pointer with 4:08 remaining, and then hit another one from well beyond the arc. Young added two free throws, another 3-pointer, an 18-foot jumper and then was fouled with 2.2 seconds left, converting both of those foul shots.
Suddenly, the high-scoring senior guard had gone on a personal 15-3 run, digging the Ducks out of a 36-28 hole and giving them a 43-39 advantage at the break.
“You can’t give him any space,” Forte said. “He’ll make you pay for it.”
Young’s biggest highlight may have come early in the second half. The 6-foot-2 guard raced ahead in transition, gathered in a pass and threw down a dunk over Hickey before crashing to the floor — no doubt impressing his father, Michael, a member of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama.
Oklahoma State responded with a spurt of its own, regaining the lead on Hickey’s 3-pointer midway through the second half. But the Ducks still had another run in them, this time with everybody but Young getting into the act. By the time Dwayne Benjamin stripped Nash and coasted in for a dunk, the 11-0 spurt had given the Pac-12 runner-ups a 70-62 advantage with 6:40 left.
The Cowboys trimmed their deficit to 70-69 a few minutes later, but Brooks added another 3-pointer, Jordan Bell added a dunk and the Ducks put the game away from the foul line.
“We got outplayed,” Ford said. “They’re a very, very good offensive team.”
Ford bit his lip after the game when asked about fouling Young on purpose with 2.2 seconds left in the first half. The scoreboards said the Cowboys had five fouls when they actually had six. So instead of simply eating up time, the foul sent Young to the line, where he made both free throws. “It was a mistake,” Ford said, tersely. “Obviously.”
Nash finished his career with 1,839 points, fourth-most in Oklahoma State history. “Just looking back on what I could have done in that game,” he said. “I’m not thinking about the rest, just thinking about what I could have done.”
Oklahoma St: Nash also had seven rebounds. … The Cowboys lost despite shooting 45 percent from the field. … Oklahoma State fell to 0-3 against the Ducks.
Oregon: The Ducks won despite getting just six points from their reserves. … Oregon is in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year, the first time in program history.
Oklahoma State’s season is over.
Oregon takes on No. 1 seed Wisconsin on Sunday.
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