Less than 24 hours after Oregon was embarrassed on national television in famed Madison Square Garden, the Ducks had the chance to make a statement about what type of team they were.
Either Oregon was the team that, after getting beat by Iowa 77-69 last night, would just roll over and die and return to the other side of the United States with its tail between its legs. Or the Ducks would show some fight, some energy and make their cross-country trip worth something.
It appears the latter was the case as No. 13 Oregon (3-1) rebounded with a dominating 80-65 victory over No. 15 Syracuse (2-2) in the consolation championship of the 2K Empire Classic.
“Today I thought we competed much better… really proud of the way they bounced back,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “(I was) really disappointed with them, and the way they turned it around, for a young team and a team that hasn't been together, I was pleased with that."
Bol Bol, after a subpar game last night, was the one-man wrecking crew the Ducks imagined when he decided to play his college ball at Oregon.
He finished with 26 points (11-of-17 shooting), nine rebounds and four blocks. Bol’s play in the middle of the Orangemen’s zone was the key for Oregon’s offense as he was able to finish or find an open teammate, showing great patience and not forcing the ball to unnecessary spots.
"He's a unique talent… he's going to grow into a special player — you saw him shoot the 3, you saw him handle it, he made some nice passes,” Altman said of Bol. “You saw that soft touch (against) that zone, the little jump hooks and that ball just lays on the rim. He's got a very soft touch for 7-foot-2."
Payton Pritchard also rebounded from a disastrous game yesterday, finishing with 18 points (4-of-5 shooting), five rebounds and four steals. His ability to penetrate and get to the free throw line (8-of-8) kept the Ducks’ offense from getting stagnant and kept them in great flow.
"Last night was a wake-up call that we can't just walk through teams,” Pritchard said. “Preparation before the game has to be better — even in a game, our intensity, even though we're so talented, you got to have intensity.”
Syracuse jumped out to an early 11-6 lead as its three-point shot was falling, and when combined with the zone defense, was giving Oregon a headache. But a 17-5 Ducks run, fueled by Bol and Pritchard’s combined nine points, gave Oregon a lead with just over six minutes left.
The Orangemen wouldn’t go away as a three-point play by Tyus Battle cut their deficit to one, 23-22 with 4:11 remaining.
However, the Ducks responded with a 12-0 run to end the half as their defensive pressure picked up, leading to transition points that helped fuel the run.
"I would say later in the first half we started kind of figuring it out, getting a groove,” Pritchard said. “We knew the high post area, we could get in there and make things happen. But after that I think we set a tone on defense… we started getting transition and everything started flowing.”
The second half was much like the first — anytime Syracuse attempted some sort of run, the Ducks would answer.
A 7-0 Orangemen run cut their deficit to 49-41 with 12:21 remaining but Bol was there to answer for the Ducks. After catching the ball at the free throw line, Bol pump faked and went to his left hand before putting the ball off the glass for the and-one.
"I really wasn't worried about them when they got it to 8,” Bol said. “Will (Richardson) made a good play and then I was wide open and shot it and hit the free throw.”
Syracuse wasn’t done yet, going on one last run that cut into Oregon’s lead at 62-53 with 6:30 remaining. Once again, the Ducks responded with a 15-4 run over the next two minutes to close out the game and leave Madison Square Garden 1-1.
"I think it was really important because of what happened last night,” Bol said of the win. “We didn't play too good… after the game we were just focusing on the next game and playing really hard."
The highlight of the game came when Oregon forward Kenny Wooten caught a lob from Pritchard and threw it down over 6-foot-10 Syracuse forward Marek Dolezaj. Wooten was credited with the and-1, stepping over Dolezaj once he returned to the floor.
Oregon now returns home to face Green Bay on Tuesday, November 20 at 7 p.m.