Ducks Resolve and Celebrate a Win

Eugene, Ore. -- Ernie Kent indicated his team held a meeting on Thursday night and "took some ownership" of the basketball team and on Saturday, despite a slow start filled with turnovers, the Oregon Ducks beat the Oregon State Beavers, 70-64. The game marked the start of the Pac-10 season and even though the non-conference schedule was filled with disappointments, the slate is clean for the New Year. A very tired looking Ernie Kent was very happy for the win.

(PHOTO) Oregon's Aaron Brooks, right, drives for a layup past Oregon State's Marcel Jones, center, during the closing seconds of the Civil War college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 31, 2005, in Eugene, Ore. Oregon's Malik Hairston (1) watches. Oregon won 70-64. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

The 324th basketball Civil War was an even match and both coaches felt their teams played well enough to win. However when crunch time came it was Oregon that managed to make the plays. With 1:12 left in the contest and Oregon leading 64-62, OSU's Nick DeWitt was called for his fifth foul on a charge and the momentum shifted radically towards Oregon. Aaron Brooks then floated a lay in to give Oregon a four-point advantage only to have Chris Stephens hit a jumper for the Beavers to cut the game back to a 2-point Oregon lead.

With 33 seconds left on the game clock and Oregon inbounding the ball, the Beavers wanted to foul in the backcourt but instead the ball bounced loose only to be picked up by Oregon's Bryce Taylor. Taylor spotted his teammate Maarty Leunen sprinting down court and Taylor lobbed a pass that resulted in Leunen twisting up layup for a basket and being fouled by Kyle Jeffers in the process. Leunen then connected on a free throw giving Oregon a 67-62 advantage with 25 ticks on the game clock. Lamar Hurd responded with a jumper cutting the score back to 67-64. On the ensuing inbound play, Malik Hairston had to call timeout to avoid a 5-second call, but in the process Leunen again broke free down court. In the huddle, the Duck coaching staff decided to run the same inbound formation and for the third straight time, Leunen streaked ahead of the pack. Hairston then hit Leunen for an easy breakaway slam-dunk and the Beavers' fate was sealed.

"Coming into this game we knew we had a new season ahead of us," said Leunen. "We knew we had to get the first game. This was huge for us. You could see us getting back in rhythm out there."

In spite of a turnover plagued first half, the Ducks managed to claim a 30-29 lead at halftime. Ivan Johnson provided a lift late in the half, scoring seven points and pulling down four rebounds to give the Ducks the narrow lead. Both Oregon and Oregon State committed 10 turnovers in the first half that were mostly unforced in nature. Oregon State added to its own woes by shooting a dismal 11-for-21 from the free throw line for the game. The Ducks were more effective from the charity stripe (17-of-22) and both teams were icy cold from outside the 3-point arc shooting 3-of-16. For the contest, both shot a similar field goal percentage, Oregon 48.1 percent to Oregon State's 49 percent.

"The problem is turnovers," said OSU's headman Jay John of the contest. "I don't have an issue with shooting 49 percent from the field. We gave possessions away. That's a problem. I wish we wouldn't have thrown those chances away."

While free throw shooting may have been part of the demise for the Beavers, Oregon may have won the game in a players only team meeting on Thursday night. According to Leunen, the team met on an informal basis at Mitch Platt's apartment and hashed out many of the problems the Ducks had encountered during a disappointing December, particularly the losses to Portland and Portland State. Brooks indicated that Hairston called the meeting after some things became heated. Brooks described the meeting as dealing with "heart issues" meaning the desire to play and win.

"We learned from our mistakes last game," Brooks said. "We were driven to not let that happen again. We didn't want to start off 0-1. We didn't want to lose at Mac Court."

Kent indicated that he was aware of the meeting and that the players had taken it upon themselves to take responsibility and ownership of the team and the season. Kent felt the team had lost something in the game against Vanderbilt. Oregon lost 76-75 on a last second 3-point play to Vanderbilt on Nov. 30th that led to a 2-5 record in December.

Kent also shortened the bench for the Oregon State game by only playing nine players including Jordan Kent who rejoined the team on Friday after returning from the Holiday Bowl with the football team.

Brooks was the high score for the game with 19 on a 6-for-10 shooting afternoon including 2-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line. Johnson finished the game with 13 points and Bryce Taylor added 10. Stephens was top point producer for Oregon State with 14, while DeWitz and Marcel Jones had 10 each. Jones also had 13 rebounds for the game.

"It was a classic Civil War game," said Kent of the contest. "It was just a great battle for both teams."

Many questions still linger regarding the Ducks however. Next week a much more difficult task lay ahead of the squad as they travel to the Bay Area and take on California on Jan. 5th and then Stanford on the Jan. 7. The Ducks had a similar good outing against Howard two weeks ago, but then were dropped by Portland and Portland State in the next two games.

If the team meeting that took place on Thursday really did resolve the issues the team have within then there is still hope that the season can be salvaged. After all it is New Year's Eve and the perfect time for a resolution. Kent hat acknowledged he hasn't slept in three weeks. Perhaps tonight he'll have a good night's rest as 2006 comes in.

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