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Ducks' second-half surge sinks Beavers

EUGENE — It wasn’t Mardi Gras, but Thursday night at Matthew Knight Arena was about as close as it gets when you’re talking University of Oregon basketball.

There was so much to celebrate — Phil Knight’s 75th birthday, Senior Night for four key players, the return of injured point guard Dominic Artis and a rousing come-from-behind 85-75 Civil War victory over arch-rival Oregon State to take back the lead in the Pac-12 race with a week of regular-season action yet to play.

Oregon (23-6 overall, 12-4 in Pac-10 play) holds a half-game lead over UCLA (11-4) with games at Colorado and Utah left on the schedule.

Those who couldn’t get into all the hubbub Thursday night in the crowd of 10,621 were either Beavers or those who hoped to get home by the witching hour from a game that tipped off after 8 p.m. and finally ended at 10:30 p.m.

More on the Beavers in a minute. This night was for the Ducks, who took a haymaker in falling behind 41-34 at the half, then stormed back, aided by a little low basketball IQ by the visitors.

Sometimes it’s hard to choose a “turning point” in a game. Not so this time. It came with Oregon State ahead 45-36 and about to go ahead by double digits with 17:24 remaining, with 6-10 Eric Moreland flying at the basket for a dunk on a fast break.

But wait a minute — a charge was called on the play. And to make matters much worse, Moreland stood over the fallen Duck, Tony Woods, and drew a senseless technical foul for taunting.

E.J. Singler sank both free throws, and instead of a 47-36 Oregon State lead, it was 45-38. And suddenly, the Ducks and Matt Court denizens were juiced.

It took a little while for the Beavers to self-destruct. That came on a 16-2 Oregon run — featuring three dunks by Woods against a rather helpless OSU zone — to provide the hosts with a 64-54 advantage with nine minutes to go. The Beavers never got closer than eight the rest of the way.

“I knew we were just going to run them over,” said Oregon’s Carlos Emery, one of the four seniors to go out in style at home, scoring a team-high 21 points off the bench.

That had to be nails across a chalkboard to Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, who saw his team falter down the stretch of a winable game for the umpteemth time this season.

Thursday’s game was a mirror image of the Jan. 6 Civil War game in Corvallis, when OSU led 34-28 at halftime, only to have Oregon turn it on for 51 second-half points in a 79-66 victory.

The Ducks scored 51 after intermission again Thursday night, aided by 10 Oregon State turnovers and OSU’s inability to ride the smoking-hot hand of Roberto Nelson, who had scored a Stephen Curry-like 22 points in the first half. In the second half, Emory tailed Nelson for 94 feet and got plenty of help. The junior guard finished with 31 points but didn’t get a second-half basket until 2:08 remained.

“Our awareness was better on him,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “We did not do a good job on him in the first half. When a guy gets on a roll like that, you have to make somebody else make a play. We did a better job of that the second half.”

Oregon State’s 2-3 zone was effective for awhile. But once big men Moreland, Joe Burton and Devon Collier all got in foul trouble in the second half, open shots, dunks and free throws (21 of 25 the final 20 minutes) became the norm for the Ducks.

The Beavers “were set in there pretty tight for a long time,” Altman said. “Then we hit a couple of 3s, and (the OSU zone) stretched out and we had some places to throw the ball into to.”

It was the sixth time Oregon State (13-16, 3-13) has lost this season in Pac-10 play after leading at the half.

“We played a really good first half,” Robinson said. “The second half, we got tentative and turned the ball over.

“You have to give (the Ducks) credit. When you’re playing a team that’s going for a Pac-12 championship and seeding in the NCAA Tournament at their place, you can’t play one half of basketball.”

Nelson was 9 for 13 in the first half, 0 for 4 in the first 18 minutes of the second half and 11 for 19 overall.

“It was more our tentative play than (the Ducks) slowing him down,” Robinson said.

But the Beavers never tried anything — screens, set plays, whatever — to get Nelson freed up in the second half. Robinson seemed so preoccupied making his offensive/defensive replacements, he forgot to coach the game.

Moreland may have gotten hosed on the charging call — “I could have sworn it was a block,” he said — but there was no doubt he made a serious mental error in drawing a technical afterward.

“I looked at him after the dunk,” Moreland said. The referee “said you can’t do that. I shouldn’t have done that. I let my emotions get the best of me.”

The lack of mental discipline has plagued the Beavers through this train wreck of a Pac-12 season.

The Ducks, meanwhile, is now a remarkable 6-1 in conference games in which they trailed at halftime.

“I guess it’s poor preparation for the first half,” Altman said in self-deprecating fashion. “Our guys are competitiors. That’s a quality you look for. I’m not sure we’ve ever panicked. Our efforts have been better in the second half.”

Seniors Emory, Arsalan Kazemi (17 points, 12 rebounds), Woods (16 points, three blocks) and Singler (nine points) made their final homecourt appearance a memorable one.

Artis, who had missed the previous nine games with a stress fracture of a foot, had six points and was 2 for 2 from 3-point range in a 12-minute reserve performance, a nice portent for the rest of the season.

Knight — the Nike patriach and Oregon’s chief athletic benefactor — took a bow at courtside to a standing ovation from the Lemon and Green faithful in the second half. There were smiles all around.

Not even a scary injury to the other freshman starter in the backcourt, Damyean Dotson, could dim the evening for the Ducks. He was carried off the floor after a collision with Moreland late in the first half, but he was back on the bench in the second half, albeit walking gingerly.

“It’s in his hip and his rear end,” Altman said. “We’re fortunate we have a week (before the next game Thursday at Colorado). I don’t think he’d be able to play Saturday. He’s going to be stiff and sore for a few days.”

The 24th-ranked Ducks have enjoyed a storybook season thus far, but I’m not sure it’s a team equipped to make it beyond the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The top seven players — the four seniors, the two freshmen and junior point guard Johnathan Lloyd — have milked just about every bit of their talent so far. They play well together, are a strong defensive unit and generally perform with poise down the stretch of a tight game.

The level of competition rises once the Big Dance starts, however. Cohesion can take a team only so far. In a few weeks, we’ll know how far that is with the Ducks.

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