SACRAMENTO — The game ended with a smile curled around Tyler Dorsey’s tongue, who flashed it toward the Rhode Island fan section here inside the Golden 1 Center after nailing the go-ahead three-pointer with 38 seconds to play.
Comeback completed. Sweet 16 tickets booked. Oregon 75, Rhode Island 72.
But before any of that could happen, Dana Altman wanted the CBS cameras as far away from Oregon’s locker room as possible. Throughout the NCAA Tournament, the cameras have been following the Ducks around, providing behind-the-scenes coverage beamed across the country. But with Oregon down eight on a day that saw its next opponent, Michigan, upset Louisville to advance to the Sweet 16, Altman gave the cameras the boot.
The way he was about to light into the Ducks wasn’t suited for a national television audience.
The Ducks had blown an eight-point lead, Dillon Brooks had been T’d up and 10 turnovers had the 11-seed Rams in command 46-38.
Throughout his career, Altman has balanced a calm temperament with fire. Few times have players seen such emotion from the Nebraskan.
“He kicked the media out and he just went (off) on us,” said Brooks, who struggled his way to 19 points on 7 of 20 shooting. “That’s what we needed. We needed some motivation and yelling.”
It wasn’t an instant shot in the arm – Rhode Island opened the second half with a three — but it was enough. The Ducks outscored the Rams 37-26 over the final 20 minutes, using a Keith Smith-led full-court press to speed the Rams out of their methodical tempo. And while Oregon kicked Rhode Island out of its rhythm, Dorsey took over.
The sophomore’s 27 points marked the fifth straight game he’s eclipsed the 20-point plateau. Nineteen of those came in the second half. He missed one shot all game and one of his five rebounds set up a Brooks three with 4:24 to play, giving Oregon its first lead since the first half.
The Rams, a team that had won nine straight coming into Sunday, weren’t done, however. A three by Jared Terrell and tip-in by Stanford Robinson gave the Rams a four-point lead with 2:15.
Dorsey wasn’t done either.
After an up-and-down season that has seen the guard look like the best player on the floor at times and an observer at others, a Dorsey three tied the game at 72 with 1:47 left on a play set up by two Jordan Bell rebounds.
“Tonight, Tyler gets five rebounds, he had three steals. When’s he’s playing as a player, not just a scorer, I think that’s when his game really comes alive,” Altman said. “That scorer mentality, I want him to have. But defense and rebounding, when he focuses on those two he becomes a special player. I think that’s part of the reason why he’s exploded here lately, is that he’s been a completely different player, offense, defense and the boards.”
Dorsey extending his hot streak was especially important considering Brooks’ off-night. The Rams played the Pac-12 player of the year tough for 40 minutes, which seemed to throw Brooks off. He left drive attempts short on the rim and his technical foul in the first half turned the tide in Rhode Island’s favor.
Oregon’s bench had previously been warned after Dylan Ennis said some words to Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley and the referee waited no time to whistle Brooks when he started talking after a tip-in. Before the foul, the Ducks led by seven. Eight minutes and 20 seconds later, the Ducks trailed by eight heading into the half.
“We haven’t had a ‘T’ all year and that’s not the right time to get one,” Altman said. “I told him after the game, ‘How would you have felt in a close ball game like this if that was the difference? Control what you can control.’
“That’s something he should have controlled.”
Brooks was still able to hit that three in late in the game, though the Ducks went through Dorsey for the final bucket. It was a new look for Oregon, who has ground its way through tough games this season, usually using the final touch of Brooks to pull them out of a spin.
But this time, with the game on the line, it was Dorsey who got the final shot for the Ducks.
Altman, ever the coach, opened up his postgame press conference with slight praise of Dorsey.
“Tyler hit a big three to tie it up, I thought that was the possession of the game.”
But after a game in which the Ducks looked like the latest victim of a March upset, the coach couldn’t help himself from jumping right into a critique. This one was OK for the media to hear.
“Tyler didn’t do much wrong offensively,” he said. “But he did have four turnovers.”
— Tyson Alger