Eugene, OR – The No. 3-ranked Houston Cougars came to Eugene on Sunday night to visit the Oregon Ducks. The teams played last year at the Maui Classic in Las Vegas where the Cougars dominated 78-59 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. Tonight, Oregon played Houston tougher, but still came out on the short end of an 66-56 final score in front of 7,002 fans. Marcus Sasser led the Cougars with 16 points, 13 in the second half. N’Faly Dante played a career=high 35 minutes and led the Ducks with 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.
One area that Oregon had an advantage in this match-up was in height. According to KenPom the Ducks have the third tallest team in the country. When adjusted for minutes played Oregon’s team is the tallest in the nation. Houston doesn’t play with a true center while the Ducks usually have two of Dante, Nate Bittle and Kel’el Ware on the floor, all 6-11 or taller. Whether Oregon took advantage of their height was one of the keys to the game.
The game was tied at 15 when Houston’s 6-5 freshman Terrance Arceneaux went off for ten points, including two three-pointers in his first five minutes of action. Houston’s point guard Jamal Shead added 11 first half points, also connecting on two 3’s. Shead added four assists and did not commit a turnover. The Ducks stayed in the game converting their height into a +9 rebounding advantage. They also blocked six shots against none for Houston. Dante led the Ducks with seven points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Oregon shot only 2-of-15 from deep while the Cougars hit on 5-of-11 as they took a 31-24 halftime lead.
Oregon stayed close for the first part of the second half, cutting the deficit to 41-38 on a Dante three-point play. From there Houston went on a 17-4 run, highlighted by three 3s from three different players, to take a 58-42 lead. The Ducks closed the gap to 60-54 before Sasser hit a late three-pointer to put the game away.
While Oregon competed well on the boards (+9 advantage) their shooting and guard play were poor. The Ducks shot only 3-of-19 from deep compared to 11-of-22 for the Cougars. Quite a few of Houston’s deep looks were open, as Bittle and Ware need to get used to guarding in space. Oregon had planned on giving Keeshawn Barthelemy more point guard time and move Will Richardson off the ball more to give him additional scoring opportunities. That plan went up in flames after Barthelemy left the game late in the first half with a foot injury. Richardson was not strong enough with the ball against Houston’s tight defense and ended the game with seven of the Ducks’ 16 turnovers.
Houston’s two talented freshman Jarace Walker and Arceneaux were both impressive. Arceneaux finished with 15 points in 19 minutes, connecting on 3-of-5 3s and adding five rebounds. The 6-8 Walker, bothered some by foul trouble, added ten points, six rebounds and three assists, making both of his three-point attempts. Walker, a solid 225-pounder, is athletic, active and strong. He has a nice shooting touch, has range and can score at all three levels. He’s likely be a top-10 pick in the 2023 NBA draft.
Oregon will next face undefeated UConn on Thursday at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland followed by either Michigan State or Alabama. They’ll need better overall guard play and shooting to compete.