EUGENE — As if the pressure wasn’t great enough for Jared Cunningham.
As the leading scorer in the Pacific-12 Conference, Cunningham is expected to take the reins for the Oregon State men’s basketball team.
Even in the Civil War. On the road.
Early in the week, coach Craig Robinson took Cunningham aside and told him that the best players help a team win on the road.
So Cunningham came out on Sunday afternoon, dropped 27 points on Oregon and led the Beavers to a 76-71 win at Matthew Knight Arena.
“Not only did he have his own pressure for wanting to help his team win, but I put that added pressure on him and he handled it,” Robinson said. “So very big for us today.”
It was OSU’s first conference road win in 13 games.
“It’s our rival school and it was a big game and a great crowd, we had a lot of Beaver fans out there,” Cunningham said. “I think we turned the corner with this win, winning our first road game, especially with it being the Civil War game. It means a lot to Beaver Nation.”
Cunningham broke out of a first-half slump and put together a big second half to push the Beavers over the top.
Cunningham was 1 for 7 from the field and went into halftime with three points but finished with 27. Time after time he attacked the basket and was sent to the line. He wound up hitting 12 of 15 free throws.
“He still doesn’t get treated like a marquee player,” Robinson said. “He got bumped around and got fouls called on him in the first half.”
This one, like just about every other conference game for the Beavers, came down to the wire.
It’s the Civil War. Would you expect anything different?
The Beavers (14-7, 4-5) came out strong in the second half after a shaky first, going on a 23-9 run to overcome the Oregon lead and then built a 12-point lead with 6 minutes, 54 seconds left on a shot by Roberto Nelson.
It almost didn’t hold.
The Ducks (15-6, 6-3) cut it to 73-70 with under a minute left on a 3-pointer by E.J. Singler, but UO could not come up with another big shot and the Beavers left with a big win.
“It feels good,” OSU guard Ahmad Starks said. “We were able to make our free throws and made good plays down the stretch. It feels good to get that out of the way.”
Robinson switched to the 1-3-1 zone and it confounded the Ducks, who finished with 23 turnovers. The Beavers had 31 points off turnovers, the Ducks 17.
“The defense helped us and Eric (Moreland) at the top was wonderful,” Starks said. “He turned the game around.”
The Beavers finished with 12 steals, 10 coming after the break.
“They were so much more active than they were in the first half, that changed the momentum,” Robinson said. “So we got a couple of steals, a couple of deflections to make them think, ‘Oh, man, this is something to contend with,’ and then we came down and banged a couple of shots.”
Oregon coach Dana Altman said he was disappointed that the Ducks couldn’t keep a better handle on the ball.
“We didn’t execute, and that’s my fault,” Altman said. “We had some awful turnovers. Their length did bother us. We had poor execution, and that’s my fault. It’s hard to score baskets when you’re turning the ball over.”
The Beavers struggled with Oregon’s defense and physical play from the start and could not muster much offense in the first half, trailing 28-23 at the break.
Despite trailing, the Beavers did not find themselves deep in the woods.
They made adjustments at the break and were ready to make their run.
“We just talked in the locker room and figured out what we wanted to do,” Starks said. “They got like nine offensive rebounds in that first half and we wanted to shut them down and they had two in the second half and we were able to do that and we came out with the victory.”
If it wasn’t for a couple late baskets by Joe Burton and a 3-pointer by Starks, the gap would have been wider at the half.
The Ducks were the first to loose balls, quick to shut down drives to the hoop and thrived during the bumping and banging underneath while the Beavers seemed to shy away.
When the Beavers did take the ball to the hole, the shot was often sent back by a Ducks defender. Oregon had eight blocks in the half.
“I thought we were being too conservative,” Robinson said. “I thought we were going in there a little too timidly and for most of these guys, this was their second Civil War game.
“This is my seventh. I’m still nervous when I come down here. It’s is a big game for our fans. So I thought they were playing just a little bit tentatively when we first went out there and in the second half when they got punched in the mouth a little bit, they were like, ‘Oh, wait a minute now. We’re in a game.’ Then they started to play.”
Starks finished with 15 points and Devon Collier added 13. Devoe Joseph led UO with 26, hitting five 3-pointers.
Oregon State 76, Oregon 71
OREGON STATE (14-7, 4-5): Burton 4-7 2-2 10, Brandt 1-4 0-0 2, Collier 5-7 3-6 13, Cunningham 6-14 12-15 27, Starks 5-14 1-2 15, McShane 0-0 0-0 0, Barton 0-0 0-0 0, Moreland 1-4 1-2 3, Nelson 2-7 2-3 6. Totals 24-57 21-30 76.
OREGON (15-6, 6-3): Jacob 2-6 0-2 4, Singler 5-10 3-4 16, Woods 2-3 1-2 5, Sim 2-11 0-0 5, Joseph 8-16 5-8 26, Ashaolu 2-4 0-0 4, Loyd 0-3 0-0 0, Nared 0-1 0-0 0, Emory 2-6 7-8 11. Totals 23-60 16-24 71.
Halftime — Oregon 28-23. 3-Point Goals — Oregon St. 7-17 (Starks 4-8, Cunningham 3-6, Nelson 0-3), Oregon 9-30 (Joseph 5-9, Singler 3-7, Sim 1-6, Nared 0-1, Loyd 0-3, Emory 0-4). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Oregon St. 32 (Cunningham 7), Oregon 44 (Emory 10). Assists — Oregon St. 15 (Cunningham, Nelson 3), Oregon 16 (Loyd 4). Total Fouls — Oregon St. 19, Oregon 26. A — 11,219.