Mike Dunigan/GODUCKS.COM

Ducks hang on to beat Northern Colorado

BY Mike Tokito, The Oregonian - September 11, 2008

EUGENE -- One play in the second half Friday showed what the 2008-09 Oregon basketball team could grow into.

Tajuan Porter corralled a loose ball, raced downcourt, then lobbed a soft pass near the basket, where freshman Michael Dunigan caught the ball and dunked in one smooth motion. The spectacular alley-oop brought the McArthur Court crowd, quiet for much of the game, to its feet as it gave the Ducks a 43-42 lead with 12:52 left in the game.

But the play was much more an exception than the norm as the young Ducks, who played five freshmen, including four for more at least 17 minutes, showed they have plenty of work to do after a 66-64 win over Northern Colorado in the season opener for both teams.

"It's going to be fun, but it's going to be stressful at times," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said.

Sophomore LeKendric Longmire had a career-high 15 points to go with five rebounds and four steals. Dunigan, the highly-touted 6-10 center, overcame foul trouble to chip in 13 points and seven rebounds. And freshman Garrett Sim, from Sunset High School, made both his three-point attempts and chipped in nine points.

Those three helped the Ducks overcame terrible nights for their top two returning scorers. Porter, the junior point guard who figures to need to carry much of the scoring load as the freshmen mature, shot 1 for 10 from the field, including 0 for 5 from three-point range, and finished with five points. Junior forward Joevan Catron was 0 for 7 from the field and had two points, although he did chip in nine rebounds.

"It was a very poor offensive performance for them," Kent said. "They will play better, but they need to step up."

The Ducks almost allowed the Bears -- who finished 13-16 and 6-10 in the Big Sky Conference last season -- to take the game to overtime. Jefferson Mason, who scored all 15 of his points in the second half for Northern Colorado, made two free throws with 1:09 left to cut Oregon's lead to 66-63. Then Porter missed a layup and had an inbound pass got through his hands, giving the Bears a final possession with 21 seconds left.

The Ducks then made an even bigger mistake as sophomore Kamyron Brown fouled Yahosh Bonner as Bonner was attempting a three-point shot with 1.9 seconds left, giving Bonner three free throws and a chance to tie the game. Fortunately for Oregon, Bonner missed his second attempt.

It was a nerve-wracking way for Kent, the 12th-year Ducks coach, to get a milestone win. The victory tied Kent for most in Oregon history. He is now 212-134 and tied with Howard Hobson (212-124) at No. 1.

"It was a nice milestone, but the only thing it tells you is that you've had some great players along the way," Kent said. The Ducks shot 28.2 percent from the field in the first half and 33.8 for the game, and shot 17 of 29 (58.6 percent) at the free throw line. Oregon covered its poor shooting with aggressive defense that created 15 steals and forced 20 turnovers.

"Our defense stepped up today, and thanks to that we won the game," Sim said.