It’s been a roller coaster start to the season for Dana Altman’s Ducks (5-3), and tonight was no different as the UC Riverside Highlanders (5-4) gave the Ducks no room to breathe at home. The Ducks came away with a six point win, but it wasn’t easy.
The first half was defined by excellent shooting and lax defense for both the Ducks and UC Riverside. Early on the Highlanders couldn’t miss down low, as they made layup after layup to match the Ducks offensive production beat for beat. The Ducks would shoot 17 of 26 from the field in the first half, and would still only enter the second with a five point lead as a result.
Riverside’s Callum McRae would lead the way for the Highlanders with eight points on four of four shooting at half as a dominant force in the paint, and Highlanders guard Zyon Pullin was a force on the boards.
Despite the rotation of Franck Kepnang and N’Faly Dante, the Ducks would get routinely beat on the boards early, and while they’d find rhythm by halftime, the Ducks were still outrebounded 11-8, providing Riverside ample opportunity for second chance points.
It’s been a trend with Dana Altman’s teams the last few years to heavily lean on the play of their guards, and this year is seemingly no exception. Will Richardson, De’Vion Harmon, and Jacob Young combined for 23 of the Ducks 42 first half points, with Richardson accounting for an additional 11 points on four assists.
In a tale of two halves, the excellent shooting from both teams would fall off massively in the second half, with neither team scoring more than 30, and struggling to find rhythm on the offensive end. The Ducks excellent six of 11 three point shooting in the first half would fall to a respectable nine of twenty-one, but it was clear that both teams would be in for a long second half.
The game became a grind down the stretch, as the Highlanders would slowly work their way back into the game, cutting the Ducks deficit down and eventually tying the game at 49 apiece. Neither team would be able to take a commanding lead from here on out, with Oregon taking minuscule leads that would disappear instantly.
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Despite a supposed minutes restriction, N’Faly Dante would play the vast majority of the closing minutes for the Ducks, which would prove to pay dividends causing multiple shot clock violations and scoreless possessions by the Highlanders.
In the Highlanders scoring drought the Ducks would rely on team veterans Richardson and Eric Williams Jr to provide the needed boost to get over the hump and pull away from the Highlanders relentless effort to sneak away with a 71-65 win.
Richardson would again end the night as the team's most valuable player, scoring 17 points, and playing solid defense in crunch time.
Despite the win, Altman is still looking to the future, specifically calling out the team’s defense needing to become more consistent as they enter PAC-12 play this Sunday against Arizona State at home.
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