Oregon State stymies Tennessee with blistering defense to advance in the NCAA Tournament

Oregon State
John Locher

Oregon State's Jarod Lucas, right, celebrates with teammates after defeating Colorado in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Pac-12 men's tournament Saturday, March 13, 2021, in Las Vegas.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Oregon State Beavers are advancing in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament after holding off a late rally by Tennessee for a 70-56 victory. When is the last time they advanced in the tournament, you ask?  March of 1982 — 38 years ago, nearly to the day.

From the opening tip to the final buzzer, Oregon State dictated the intensity of its matchup. The backcourt tandem of Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas entered the game with a chip on their shoulders, asserting themselves with a physical, pestering brand of perimeter defense. As OSU’s leading scorers imposed their will on the defensive end, so did the rest of their teammates.

Oregon State and Tennessee both reached the tournament with high-octane defenses, naturally devolving into a messy offensive style in the early going. Though OSU forced multiple turnovers and held the Volunteers to 1-of-5 shooting early, the team found itself shooting 33% on its first nine shots. Shortly after the first timeout, it became clear that the Beavers would have to ride the hot hand of starting center Roman Silva — The Pac-12’s leader in field goal percentage this season.

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Silva isn’t generally known for his offense, averaging just 5.3 points per game on the season. Today, he channeled the best version of himself with a perfect 8-for-8 shooting performance for a career-high 16 points. Not only did he lead the game in scoring, but Silva also rejected three shots, one more than the entire Tennessee team, and added five boards.

With only one true freshman on the roster, Oregon State’s veteran savvy shined through against a Volunteers team led by two freshman guards in Keon Johnson (14 points, three steals) and Jaden Springer (12 points on 12 shots). OSU deployed a crafty defensive scheme, closing off lanes to the basket with keen defensive rotations. The Beavers forced their opponent into contested above-the-break 3-point shots, leading to a collapse by the Volunteers.

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Tennessee shot just 19.2% (5-of-26) from 3-point land as a result of the Beavers’ smothering perimeter defense. On the opposite end of the court, Oregon state used strong ball-movement and expert shot-creation to generate higher-quality 3-point looks. The Beavers knocked down 10 3-pointers at a 47.6% clip, much of which was fueled by Lucas’ 4-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

After dominating the first half with a 14-point lead, Oregon State withstood a late push from Tennessee and finished its win by a 14-point margin. On the brightest stage in college sports, where legacies are made and tarnished, the Oregon State Beavers played for each other. They trusted in each other, did all of the dirty work — OSU outrebounded Tennessee by seven boards — and stuck to their gameplan.

Despite the victory, the Oregon State Beavers don’t have much time to celebrate. They’ll face the winner of No.  4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 13 Liberty on Sunday, giving them a chance to win two NCAA Tournament games in three days after going nearly 40 years without one.

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