After a trip to the Final Four in Phoenix, the Oregon Men’s Basketball team suffered a heartbreaking loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels.
It’s no secret that the Oregon Ducks were not expected to make a deep run in March Madness after losing versatile big man Chris Boucher to injury in the Pac-12 Tournament. This team was resilient and found ways to survive and advance during close games against Rhode Island and Michigan.
They found shocking ways to make the journey continue, including an Elite Eight win over the region’s No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks in Kansas City.
“Nobody thought we’d be the team everybody thought we would be. But we stuck with it, kept pushing,” explained Oregon senior Dylan Ennis. “And I’m just happy that we started playing well at the right time and got this far.”
During the NCAA tournament, the Ducks learned that every possession counts in both wins and losses. Dumb turnovers and bad shots will have a lasting impact during a nailbiter as much as clutch three’s and highlight reel dunks.
Of course, the most unforgiving memory will be the inability to box out for a rebound after an astonishing four consecutive missed free throws by North Carolina gave Oregon a second chance at life.
Instead, as the final buzzer hit zero seconds left on the clock, a reliable center like the injured Boucher is exactly what the team needed to get the win.
“It drives players crazy because you think about every little thing, a free throw you missed, a turnover that you had, a rebound that you didn’t get, the defensive assignment that you missed,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman. “You know, it really messes with you for a little bit longer.”
For some players on the team, however, the sting seemed largely unbearable after the devastating defeat.
Check out this video that the athletic department shared from the locker room after the game.
Many were crying as Ennis tried to convince Oregon star Jordan Bell that this game comes down to more than just the unfortunate last play.
Bell averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game during the tournament. He shot 73% from the field during March Madness and pulled in 16 rebounds against North Carolina.
He averaged rebound statistics comparable to elite talents like Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan.
It’s only natural for Bell, who apologized to fans on Twitter, to think about the final two rebounds that he couldn’t grab at the end.
Bell told media during postgame interviews that he still thinks about high school games where things went wrong and his team lost.
This is not an easy pill to swallow for the Oregon Men’s Basketball team. Seniors like Ennis and Boucher will always think about what could have been during their last collegiate game.
Others including Bell as well as junior Dillon Brooks and sophomore Tyler Dorsey will assess their draft stock to see if they could have an NBA future.
“They’ll bounce back,” continued Altman. “And the guys that are coming back will work their tails off to be better next year. And the guys that decide to make the jump, then I’m going to wish them the best of luck and hope like heck that everything works out great for them.”
While this loss hurts now, this was a talented group of Oregon players. All three players mentioned above led the team to the Final Four for the first time since the then-Webfoots won the 1939 title.
Five-star high school senior Troy Brown is committed to the Ducks for next season, which is uncharacteristic for the program. Oregon is also the favorite to land the nation’s No. 6 overall recruit, Brandon McCoy — who would be a perfect post presence to potentially replace Bell.
There was a lot to love about this Ducks team, who became a darling during their postseason run. But once fans let go of the attachment for what could have been, the focus can then shift to appreciating the present state of Oregon Men’s Basketball.
Fans and the team might leave Phoenix with somber sadness, but after two trips to the Sweet 16 in three years, this program is officially on the map. So that’s worth celebrating, too.