With the book closing on McArthur Court nearly two weeks ago, the Duck men (8-9 overall, 1-4 in conference) opened brand new Matt Knight Arena in grand fashion, defeating the USC Trojans (10-7 overall, 2-2 in conference) 68-62 in front of a saucer-eyed crowd. The new arena's clean and modern look -- coupled with its uniquely steep seating arrangement and the psychedelic nature of the floor -- offered many visual perks for first timers to the new building, though it was the play of the Ducks that was the real story Thursday. Spearheaded by an opportunistic bench that outscored USC's bench by 15 (31-16), the Ducks rode the emotion and energy of the pregame festivities to a 32-26 halftime lead which was punctuated by thunderous put back dunk by Oregon forward Tyrone Nared going in to the break.
"It's (only) two points," said Oregon head coach Dana Altman after the game, "but it energized the crowd. It gave everybody a big boost and then we came out and played really well to start the second half and pushed that lead up."
Nared's 10 point, 3 rebound effort in 31 minutes of action was something Altman took immediate notice of when asked about his bench's terrific perfomance Thursday night.
"Tyrone really stepped up," said Altman. "He's been coming along. His athleticism gives us a big boost; he struggled a little bit with some of our sets, but he's picked 'em up and he feels a lot more comfortable.
Jay-R (Strowbridge) came in and hit some big shots for us, Malcolm (Armstead) did a nice job of going north and south and not messing with it and getting in the paint and shooting some shots cause he took that thing to the goal...I thought our bench was good and it really gave us a big lift."
Strowbridge and Armstead finished with 8 and 11 points, respectively.
In addition to the great effort provided by the bench, the Ducks got tremendous offensive efficiency and production from their swarming defense, scoring 20 points on 14 Trojan turnovers.
"We tried to start (our offensive flow) with our defense," said Oregon guard Johnathan Loyd who lead the Ducks with 12 points to go along with 5 assists and 3 steals. "We just kept playing and confidence kept building and building and we was talking and flying around and all the sudden the basket was big and we were shooting in to it."
Oregon also did a fine job limiting the impact that Trojan big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson had on the game. Though Vucevic earned a double-double (11 points, 13 rebounds), his impact wasn't felt until later in the second half.
"We knew if we flew around in zone, we could disrupt their offense a little bit," said Oregon forward E.J. Singler. "The two big guys (Vucevic and Stepheson) really didn't get in to any kind offense in the first half and I thought that was big for us because those two guys are keys for USC to win."
"It's fun," continued Singler when asked how he felt about accepting the challenge of facing bigger guys the likes of Vucevic and Stepheson. "It's damn fun. You play basketball to battle and those are the two biggest guys in the league."
Donte Smith lead the Trojans with 13 points.
Heading in to Saturday afternoon's matchup with the UCLA Bruins, the Ducks are eager to build upon the festive mood inside the new arena on opening night. Reflecting back on the evening in general, Altman appeared to be in as good a mood as he's been in all season; beaming about the awesome nature of the new environment.
"The students were unbelievable and the fans were unbelievable," remarked Altman. "This was a great way to start a new era with this beautiful arena.
"To come out tonight and have that kind of reception from the fans and the students for a team that is under .500 tells a lot of people why this is a special place."
Garrett Sim scored eight of Oregon's first 13 points and gave UO its largest lead of the first half at 13-6 with a three-point play...The Ducks led the Trojans 32-26 at halftime, marking the first time they have led after 20 minutes of play since Dec. 13 when they led Jacksonville State, 39-27, at the break. Oregon improved to 5-1 this season when leading at halftime...Tyrone Nared made the first three-pointer of his career and the first in Matthew Knight Arena history to give the Duck a 7-4 lead with 12:54 remaining in the first half. Nared (10 points) recorded his third double digit scoring effort of the season...E.J. Singler (11 points) scored in double figures for the 12th time this season..Johnathan Loyd (12 points) scored in double figures for the fourth time this season and second game in a row...Oregon led 57-37 with 11:52 remaining in the second half, its largest lead in a game since leading Jacksonville State by 26 on Dec. 13. This marks the fifth game this season that the Ducks have held a lead of 20 points or more.
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney
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