OIT SPOILS EASTERN'S UPSET BID
By Pierre LaBossire
Observer Staff Writer
The Eastern Oregon basketball men put as big of a scare into No. 1 Oregon Tech as anyone has all season, but down the stretch, the Hustlin' Owls went on an amazing offensive run to pull out a 94-86 win Friday.
Eastern (4-9, 1-6 in Cascade Collegiate Conference) played its best game of the year, keeping undefeated OIT (19-0, 7-0 in CCC) at arm's length through much of the contest.
Coach Art Furman was exhorting the crowd and 500 students and fans packed into Quinn Coliseum to make some noise, and they responded, roaring their approval when Eastern went up 73-56 with 8:30 left and appeared headed for a huge upset.
However, OIT showed why it is considered the best NAIA team in the nation, hitting six three-pointers down the stretch while erupting for 38 points over the last 8:20 to quiet down the raucous crowd.
In order to get an idea of just how amazing of an offensive run that was for OIT, that projects to 182 points over a 40-minute game.
OIT forward Kevin Baker, a Riverside grad used to playing games in La Grande, scored 24 points, including 15 in the second half. An exhausted Baker commented on his way out of the gym, "that was the best game ever..."
OIT didn't shoot particularly well much of the game, but the Hustlin' Owls kept firing away from outside, and finally down the stretch, all those bombs started finding their mark. OIT shot 70 percent (12-for-17) over the last 8:20.
Furman called it a heartbreaking loss heartbreaking because the Eastern players worked so hard all game long.
"I'm proud of the way our guys played. They came together more than they had all year," said Furman. "Our guys so much deserved that game."
Furman gave credit to OIT for its incredible offensive display in the second half.
"Boy, they just sucked it up the last four or five minutes," he said. "They're No. 1 for a reason."
OIT also helped its cause by putting on an effective half court press late in the game, causing several turnovers. Eastern ended up with 21 turnovers, 14 of which came in the second half.
"Their press bothered us and bothered us and bothered us," he said.
Furman said before the game that Eastern had to break its bad habit of slow start in order to even have a chance in this one. The Mountaineer men responded, getting up 14-10, and then hanging tough with OIT the rest of the half. A Tyree Jones lay-up at the buzzer gave Eastern a 39-36 edge a the break.
Eastern's Tony Luper was huge in the first half, scoring 10 points and hauling down six rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
Eastern kept up the pressure through much of the second half. Nate Cauffman scored eight points during this stretch to help Eastern on a 34-20 run over the first 11:30 of the second half.
After Eastern opened up its 17-point lead, OIT's Michael Nunes scored five straight points to keep the Hustlin' Owls within range at 73-61 with under eight minutes left.
Eastern responded after a timeout with what seemed at the time a giant dagger in OIT's heart. Jones (listed at 5-foot-10) had a spectacular dunk on a back door lob play with 7:20 left to give the Mountaineers a 75-61 lead.
Despite the frenzied crowd, OIT was undaunted and continued to surge back on a 14-0 run, finally catching the Mountaineers at 75-75 with 5:05 left on a Florian Houguet basket.
Jones scored on a three-point play to give the Mountaineers a 78-75 lead with 4:02 left, but it was to be their last lead of the game.
Todd Matthews, who hit five treys on the night, drilled a three-pointer, and Baker followed with a trey of his own to give OIT its first lead of the second half at 81-78 with 3:17 left.
Another Baker basket gave OIT an 83-78 lead, and Luper responded with two free throws to make it 83-80 with 2:18 left.
That was as close as Eastern got the rest of the game. Matthews hit two straight treys to open up an 89-80 lead with 1:06 left, icing the game.
Luper led the Mountaineers with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Jones scored 19, Jason Crawley 15 and Larry Smith 13.
Matthews ended up with 17 points, seven assists and six steals, while Nunes and Alassane Bakayoko each scored 15 for OIT.
Eastern plays Southern Oregon at home at 8 p.m. today.
Oregon Tech (94)
Todd Matthews 5-12 2-3 17, Florian Houguet 5-13 10, Michael Nunes 5-6 3-4 15, Alassane Bakayoko 5-7 5-6 15, Kevin Baker 9-16 3-3 24, Chris Johnson 2-4 6, Matt Johnson 0-1 2-2 2, Milija Mitrovic 2-5 1-2 5, Mike Hansen 0-1 0-0 0, David Michaelis 0-2 0-0 0, Alan Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 33-67 16-20.
Eastern Oregon (86)
Nate Cauffman 3-8 0-0, Tyree Jones 8-14 2-3 19, Jason Crawley 7-11 0-0 15, Tony Luper 9-12 2-3 21, Larry Smith 4-10 2-2 13, Jeremy McLean 1-2 0-0 2, Neil Collins 1-2 4-4 6, Nephi Taitano 0-0 2-5 2, Konrad Bomberger 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Niece 0-0 0-0 0, Jacoby Fox 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 33-59 12-17 86.
Halftime score EOU 39, OIT 36. Three-pointers OIT 12-31 (Matthews 5-11, Baker 3-7, Chris Johnson 2-4, Nunes 2-2, Houguet 0-4, Michaelis 0-2, Matt Johnson 0-1; EOU 8-25 (Smith 3-8, Cauffman 2-7, Jones 1-5, Crawley 1-2, Luper 1-1, McLean 0-1, Collins 0-1). Fouled out none. Total fouls OIT 19, EOU 19. Technical fouls none. Turnovers OIT 10, EOU 21. Rebounds OIT 32 (Baker 8), EOU 33 (Luper 11). Assists OIT 19 (Matthews, Houguet 7 each), EOU 22 (Jones 7).