The hits kept coming to Oregon, which fought to the end with more scholarship players out due to injury or fouling out than were left on the floor to take on the Herculean task of attempting to knock off No. 12 Michigan State.
Will Richardson tied a career-high with 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds and played all 40 minutes for the Ducks in a 74-70 loss to the Spartans in a loser’s bracket semifinal of the PKI Friday night at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Richardson shot 10 of 21 from the field, including 4 of 10 from three, and 4 of 5 from the foul line. The fifth-year senior scored 23 points in the second half to keep the Ducks in it to the final buzzer.
“Will did a tremendous job of leading our basketball team tonight,” Oregon coach Dana Altman. “I’ve been on him about his experience and getting guys through situations. Not just because he scored points but what he tried to do in the first half when he wasn’t scoring and I thought he did a lot for our team.
“(We) made some really stupid fouls. Didn’t give ourself a chance to finish the game. But the guys, they tried to compete.”
Kel’el Ware had 11 of his 17 points in the first half for Oregon (2-3), which was without guard Tyrone Williams due to a right ankle injury he suffered in Thursday night’s loss to UConn. UO entered the night with seven available scholarship players and lost center N’Faly Dante midway through the first half due to concussion protocol and Nate Bittle didn’t play the final 16:35 due to a foot injury. Then Quincy Guerrier (eight points) fouled out with 6:59 to go.
That left Oregon leaning almost entirely on Richardson with help from Ware and Rivaldo Soares (10 points) and its fourth available scholarship player for the final stretch was reserve Lök Wur, who recently returned from injury and entered the night with 114 career minutes in 24 games over 2-plus seasons. Wur, a fourth-year sophomore, played a career-high 20 minutes and had three points, a rebound and assist.
“I feel for Dana,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I want to say I know what he’s going through, but what he’s going through is worse. Someone had to find a way to win and we did.”
Joey Hauser had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Tyson Walker had 18 points and eight assists for Michigan State (4-2), which is without starting small forward Malik Hall and guard Jaden Akins. The Spartans play Portland in the 5th place game at Chiles Center at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Oregon had to turn to walk-ons Gabe Reichle (20 minutes), Brady Parris and James Cooper (three each) to play a combined 26 minutes.
“Those guys, they come every day to practice, they practice their ass off and they didn’t make any mistakes tonight,” Altman said. “Everybody will say, ‘Well they didn’t score any points.’ They competed, they didn’t any mistakes and they did their job. They showed discipline and that’s what happens when you bring it everyday in practice; you become a disciplined, reliable player.”
The Ducks led for most of the first half but the Spartans used a 14-0 run to take a 33-30 lead into halftime. A back-and-forth second half eventually separated when Michigan State went on a 12-2 run to go ahead 62-55.
“I feel for Dana,” Izzo said. “I want to say I know what he’s going through but what he’s going through it worse. Someone had to find a way to win and we did.”
Richardson and Soares combined for six straight for UO, the latter converting a three-point play with 54.3 to go to cut the gap to 68-67. Michigan State made all six of its free throws in the final 38.7 and while Richardson converted a three-point play with 11.1 to go to make it 72-70, but the gap would never close.
Izzo tried to warn his team about Richardson, who hadn’t taken over a game yet this season and was well below his career averages thus far this season.
“I thought he played a lot more aggressive would be thing for him,” Izzo said. “I really like him as a player. I think he’s got the ability to change speeds. He shot it well. He posted up some of our smaller guys. I think it should please Oregon fans — Dana did a hell of a job. He’s more beat up and then they lose (Dante) in the game. But I think it should please him that (Richardson) is more aggressive and that’s the first time I saw it. On film I didn’t see him do that. I think he’s going to be a big key for them if they can get everybody back.”
Oregon plays Villanova in the 7th place game at noon Sunday at Chiles Center.
Altman wasn’t immediately sure about the outlook for Dante or Bittle.
“We’ll go with whoever we got,” he said. “I feel bad for the guys because they want to compete. I don’t know what’s in the water this year but we’re having one of those years. We’ll get them back. We got to keep the ship afloat and we got to keep playing and hopefully we’ll get some of the guys back.”