Oregon 75, Winthrop 61
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)—So much for the little guys.
The ones from Winthrop, at least. There’s one from Oregon still standing mighty tall in the NCAA tournament.
Diminutive but destructive Tajuan Porter, the shortest man on the floor at 5-foot-6, broke open a close game by making his first four shots of the second half Sunday, all from long range. That spurt, Aaron Brooks’ 22 points and a smothering defense led Oregon over the frazzled Eagles 75-61 and eliminated the last remaining double-digit seed from the tournament.
The third-seeded Ducks (28-7), who have won more games than any Oregon team since the 1944-45 squad won 30, will play seventh-seeded UNLV in the semifinals of the Midwest Regional in St. Louis.
“I can’t be more happy,” coach Ernie Kent said of Oregon’s first appearance in the round of 16 since 2002. “We’re going to see the arches—and not the McDonald’s arches.”
The 11th-seeded Eagles (29-5), who upset Notre Dame in the first round, lost for the first time in 20 games to end their most successful tournament in seven tries.
“When this magic carpet ride comes to an end, it ends rather abruptly. And it’s not an easy thing to accept,” Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall said.
His head was pointed as high as those of his players, the champions of the unheralded Big South Conference.
“The hype that our program generated this year starting in mid-February was unbelievable. The flip side … You’re not going to sneak up on Notre Dame or Oregon.”
So where has the madness gone? This is the first time since 1995 that no double-digit seeds have advanced to at least the third round.
“Butler now will have to carry the flag as a mid-major into the rest of the tournament,” Marshall said.
The Ducks moved on, largely because of super-sized, 11-for-23 shooting from 3-point range that was almost as hot as the fluorescent yellow uniforms they wore. Porter led the way.
“You can see when Tajuan is about to shoot the ball, there’s a little step in him. He starts shaking,” Brooks said of his freshman shooting ace, who scored 14 points.
“We knew Tajuan would have a big push sometime in the game. And we really needed it after halftime,” he said.
Oregon also relied on its relentless, speedy defense to control the game.
A frenzy of reaching, probing Ducks greeted every Winthrop pass near the basket. Even the Eagles’ deep shots were contested, if not rushed against an expiring shot clock.
“We just looked a little rattled,” Torrell Martin said.
Winthrop’s catalyst scored 15 points and had a career-high 12 rebounds—but missed 12 of his 18 shots. Martin, who scored 20 points when the Eagles beat Notre Dame, made just 2-of-11 shots from 3-point range.
Winthrop missed 16 consecutive 3-point shots from the 12-minute mark of the first half until Chris Gaynor made one with 7:37 left in the game. Oregon led 59-48 by then.
Winthrop’s Craig Bradshaw, who had 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting in Friday, had just one shot over the game’s first 23 minutes. He finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in his final collegiate game.
While Winthrop was missing all those 3-point tries, the 6-foot-10 dynamo from New Zealand turned to his guards during a dead ball and twice implored to them, “Go inside!” But there, swarms of Ducks hounded Bradshaw.
Smaller Maarty Leunen was on his hip. Malik Hairston, who scored 13 points, continually raced over to meet Bradshaw’s next move. Bryce Taylor collapsed down from outside. Even the 6-foot Brooks took some turns fronting the NBA prospect who destroyed the Irish.
All the varying looks and defenders eliminated the Eagles’ usual passing lanes into Bradshaw.
“It was frustrating for me,” Bradshaw said in a voice so low it was hard to hear his Kiwi accent.
Kent said it was the fifth new defense in the last eight games for his Ducks, who are more known for their flashy running and lethal shooting. The coach called the execution of the defensive game plan “exceptional.”
“Basketball people understand what’s gotten us this far,” Hairston said. “We should be known as a defensive team, that’s what’s gotten us this far. If no else recognizes it, we do.”
Still, Winthrop trailed by only 33-29 at halftime, after reserve DeAndre Adams stole the ball from Porter and made a runner in the lane just before the half ended. That was Winthrop’s only field goal over the last 5 1/2 minutes, but it restored the Eagles’ hopes.
Then Porter ended them.
His third consecutive 3-pointer of the second half put the Ducks up 48-35 just 4 1/2 minutes into the second half. UNLV beware: This season, entering Sunday, Porter had shot better from 3-point range (a team-leading 43) than from inside the arc (41 percent).
When Brooks made yet two more 3s—to go 5-for-7 from deep—Oregon led 57-42 with nine minutes left—and Winthrop’s dream was dead.
“This season was magical. We couldn’t be more proud,” Gaynor said. “They just hit every shot, it seemed like.”