Johnny Dawkins had a chance to make history entering Thursday's game. Should
the Cardinal beat the Beavers at Maples Pavilion, it would be the first time the
Farm Boys have won eight conference games and 18 regular season contests since
the head coach arrived on campus.
But a high-octane squad always dressed for Halloween stood in the way. The black and orange Beavers certainly had revenge on their minds, one month removed from a heartbreaking 103-101 quadruple overtime loss to the Dawkins bunch, one week removed from a disappointing 10-point loss to the previously-winless-on-the-road-in-conference Washington State Cougars in a game that would have put them at .500 in conference with a victory, five days removed from a soul-crushing three-point loss to the Washington Huskies.
So on to the floor stepped the quintet of Angus Brandt, Eric Moreland, Devon Collier, Jared Cunningham, and Ahmad Starks, intent on getting the victory that would ensure the Beavers a non-losing season. Lining up in white next to them was an experienced starting cinco of Owens, Zimmermann, and Mann to go along with the sophomore Powell and Rock Island Rookie.
But experience be damned, because it was the freshman Chasson Randle who got things rolling early on, connecting on a couple of three-pointers in the opening three minutes. The next three would come almost four minutes later, which Randle backed up with a strong take from the left wing to give Stanford its 19th point of the game, 11 of which had been tossed in by the most recent scorer.
And with the conference's leading scorer Cunningham off to a slow start, only getting off one clanked three, one would think Stanford's lead would be comfortable with 19 at the 12:23 mark, especially with the way the Card had been D'ing up in recent games.
Not the case.
That Aussie Angus displayed his range, drilling a top-of-the-key three. Devon Collier muscled his way down low for a couple of layups.
And then double-nickels Roberto Nelson checked in. Demetrius Walker's former AAU teammate immediately knocked down a jumper to close the gap to a single bucket. His next field goal, a field goal in the football sense, gave Oregon State its second lead at 20-19.
That lead wouldn't hold for long, though, just like Oregon State's first advantage. Aaron Bright caught a Chasson Randle skip pass on the left wing on the ensuing possession and didn't even think about it. Just threw the damn thing up there and drilled the long ball to put Stanford back up two. This would catalyze a 13-4 run bookended by Bellevue's Brightest, the last shot being a three off a Josh Huestis offensive rebound that resulted in an immediate Craig Robinson timeout, even though it was the first possession after the under-eight mandatory.
Stanford was up eight and appearing to start to pull away from the Beavers… not so fast. It turns out Mr. Nelson was just warming up - the points from Roberto started coming in bunches (guess he's out of his slump, huh?). Defensively, Obama's second favorite collegiate squad (I still think he likes the Heels more, regardless of the family connection) was harassing the Cardinal, forcing three turnovers in the span of 123 seconds.
Oh, that pesky 1-3-1. The defense that shocked the Cardinal into a 14-point home loss in Dawkins' inaugural season just days after Obama's inauguration. The resistance provided in Evanston in December 2009 that resulted in the only ‘L' in the most recent four-game series with the Northwestern Wildcats.
Yes, that vaunted 1-3-1 that had given the Cardinal so much trouble in the past was flustering the Farm Boys yet again. It had rendered Chasson scoreless for the final 13 minutes of the half and caused nine home team turnovers by half's end (and 19 overall for the game). The offense sputtered and Josh Owens was on the sidelines after having picked up his second foul at the 7:54 mark. By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, Oregon State was up 41-40.
So much for that three-possession lead.
The second half started off with a renewed commitment to pound it down low. After rarely seeing the ball in the first half, Josh Owens got it on the block on the first possession of the second. He had the position on his defender and got ready to employ his killer left-shoulder baby hook, but it was Eric Moreland to the rescue for OSU from the weak side to block the shot. No problem though, Owens dusted himself off, tried again and got the bunny to go to put the Cardinal back on top.
Then it was Powell's turn. Left wide open on the right wing, Dwight simply drove to the hoop and got the layup and blocking foul call on Angus Brandt to get the three-point play. Two possessions, two basket finishes, and Stanford was clinging to a very slim lead.
Slowly but surely, that slim lead grew into a healthy nine-point edge by going back outside. Aaron Bright proved himself a worthy candidate to replace Jarrett Mann in the second half starting lineup, hitting a couple of threes that helped push the lead to its largest at that point- 56-47. He would finish with 20 points, seven assists and three turnovers - not a bad game at all.
On the defensive end, the Cardinal were doing two things impressively. First, they were holding the Beavers to one shot per trip. Offensive rebounds were, at this point by and large, as rare to come by for Oregon State as they were for the Trojans just 96 hours earlier.
Secondly, and more importantly, it took me a couple of possessions to realize that Roberto Nelson had checked back into the game. After going for 15 points in 12 minutes in the first half, Nelson was nowhere to be found for the vast majority of the second. Credit to Mr. Montana on this- Huestis was hounding Nelson like a fly on excrement; there was nowhere for Nelson to turn.
After scoring 41 points in the first 20 minutes, the Beavers had scored just seven in the next 8:10. But, as they had in the first half, Oregon State chipped away. Stanford had the Oregon State offense held on yet another possession, but couldn't come down with the rebound twice, eventually leading to a Jared Cunningham three.
The lead would get cut to three before the Chasson Randle Show returned to Maples Pavilion. After feeding Powell for a slam over Angus Brandt, the freshman took matters into his own hands, drilling threes on consecutive possessions. With Oregon State trying to creep back in it, Randle hit one more three over Eric Moreland, who turned his head in disgust and frustration as Randle's most recent eyeball jumper put the Card ahead 72-61 with under five minutes to play. At the end of the day, Randle would finish with 24 points for the second time against the Beavers, only on this occasion, he did it in 32 minutes as opposed to 44.
"We knew all about Randle from the first time we played Stanford. We just didn't have an answer for him tonight," Craig Robinson said after the game. "We knew where he was, but we couldn't stop him."
The Farm Boys seemed intent on keeping their lead right around the double-digit barrier, something that they had done for the last five or six minutes of game time. Surely, the Cardinal had put the Beavers away for good, right?
Not so fast there, Kevo. A ten point lead with 2:40 to go wasn't safe, and it wasn't hard to figure out why.
That damned zone again! A defense that is often referred to as junkyard was looking more upper class by the possession. Oh, how they trap with their size! As soon as Randle or Bright crossed the timeline, they would be met by a trio consisting of Brandt, Moreland and Cunningham. As soon as one of the two picked up his dribble, he was toast.
The lead was down to six and Stanford was yet again having trouble getting it past half court. Randle tried to send it back towards Bright's way, but Cunningham interrupted the pass halfway and had a breakaway. The Bay Area native trotted down the court all by his lonesome and slammed it home----Wait, what? Did someone just hit the rewind button? Somehow, someway, the ball went right back up through the cylinder. Randle played it as if it were any regular ole' missed shot, grabbed the board, and laid it in to extend the lead to eight with 100 seconds to go.
So what happened? Depends on who you ask.
Randle and Dawkins said the ball got caught in the net, and in the process, it was propelled it back up the net. One of those things that happens once in a thousand times, as Dawkins put it. Jared has another take.
"That ball hit me on the shoulder as I was up in the air, then went back out," Cunningham said. "At the time I couldn't believe they didn't count it, but I guess the ball has to go all the way through. Very weird, and disappointing, especially at that time in the game."
In any case, it was something I've never seen happen in a game, not to mention being the biggest break Stanford could ask for - a huge four-point swing that momentarily appeared to put the game out of reach.
But by this time, could you really count out the Runnin' Robinsons? In typical end-of-game hijinks, the Beavers hit three after three down the stretch; Cunningham wasn't going to let his team go down easy. Even Roberto Nelson got back in the mix, drilling a three ball to cut into the Cardinal lead further.
The onus would be on Stanford to make the freebies down the stretch. After a rare stop in the final 65 seconds, Huestis was immediately fouled. His team up six, all he had to do was hit one to make it a three-possession game. But on a night where he was previously 0-4 from the stripe, 50 percent wasn't a reality. The second one clanked and Oregon State - wait, that's Anthony Brown! The sophomore muscles the offensive rebound over Eric Moreland, who had been boarded over twice on his defensive glass and rained on by Randle all in the last five minutes. The normally solid Moreland was starting to look like a scapegoat, as this recent allowance of an o-reb led to Anthony Brown going to the free throw line. And this time, Brown would hit both to make it an eight-point game. Those offensive rebounds for Stanford were piling up and seemingly starting to separate the Card from the Beavs.
Nevertheless, the trend continued. Three for Oregon State; one or two for Stanford. This game was far from being decided. When Angus Brandt drilled a three over Owens with 15 seconds left, the lead was all the way down to three.
Brown was fouled again and sent to the line for the seventh and eighth time in the last minute-plus. One puts it almost out of reach…First one up - front rim, back rim, front rim, out.
Now the pressure's on. Swish. Pressure's off. Timeout Dawkins.
It's really do-or-die now for the Beavers. Robinson puts it in Nelson's hands out of the timeout, who jacks up a three from the right wing… no sir! Anthony Brown with the rebound and the free throws with five seconds left. One for two at the stripe for Brown, who would retreat quickly enough to block Challe Barton's shot at the buzzer.
Finally, this game was over. After being mired in a cold streak for the majority of the past seven games, it was the 54 percent three-point shooting and 53 percent field goal shooting overall that propelled the Card on Thursday night. Stanford 87, Oregon State 82.
Mission accomplished. Dawkins had just taken this program to previously unseen heights under his rule. Stanford could lose out and still have the best regular season in Johnny history.
But of course, no one would be happy with 18-12, 8-10. There are still more rungs to reach in this fourth campaign that continues on Sunday afternoon against the Quacks.
Can the Card secure their first .500 conference season since the Sweet 16? A win over the Devoe Josephs would take the drama out of that question.
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