Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey stared down his defender at the top of the key, pulled up just behind the three-point line and buried the jump shot. He walked backward slowly, tongue sticking out, having placed the masterstroke on a remarkable shooting night that helped send his team one step deeper into the NCAA Tournament.
Dorsey’s three-pointer with 38 seconds left lifted third-seeded Oregon to a 75-72 victory over No. 11 Rhode Island and propelled the Ducks into the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. Oregon will play seventh-seeded Michigan in Kansas City next Thursday.
The Ducks trailed by 11 points early in the second half but closed the gap behind a series of big shots by Dorsey, the sophomore guard from Los Angeles, who accounted for 15 of Oregon’s final 28 points and finished with 27 while making 9-of-10 shots from the field.
“I was joking with him,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “ ‘How the heck did you miss that one shot?’ ”
It helped the Ducks overcome a rough shooting night by star Dillon Brooks and a scrappy Rhode Island team that looked determined to extend its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 18 years. The Rams led for most of the game and still had a three-point edge with two minutes left before a sequence that both coaches agreed swung the outcome.
Following a missed free throw, Oregon grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds to extend a possession that ultimately ended with Dorsey burying a three-pointer from the corner that tied the game 72-72 with 1:47 remaining.
Still tied two possessions later, Altman opted to run a “Double Drag” play for Dorsey, who found himself alone against one of Rhode Island’s forwards at the top of the key.
“I’ve practiced that hesitation pull-up shot a lot, so in my mind I was going there,” said Dorsey. “(The defender’s) hands never came up. And I let it go.”
“I thought he made a really good read on it,” Altman said. “I saw his feet were right and the guy’s hands were down. And I was yelling at him to shoot it.”
Dorsey did, the shot capping a 23-12 run by Oregon down the stretch. Rhode Island had two chances to tie but three-point tries by Stanford Robinson and E.C. Matthews missed the mark, sending the Ducks sprinting toward their bench in celebration.
On the Rams’ side, guard Jared Terrell pulled his jersey up over his face. Matthews, the star junior who returned this season from a torn ACL, bent over at the waist. After going through the handshake line the Rams huddled near half-court, some players wiping their eyes as their best season in nearly two decades reached its end.
“The experience has been amazing, not only for the coaches and players, making us even more determined to be back up here on the podiums with police escorts and playing in huge games,” said Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley. “It drives that hunger more.”
The Rams, who were led by Robinson’s 21 points, played their customary tough defense, forcing 10 first-half Oregon turnovers that led to 16 points. But Oregon regained its poise after halftime, committing just four more turnovers, and used its size to grab 15 offensive rebounds leading to 22 second-chance points, including Dorsey’s late three.
Altman said it “wasn’t a pretty game to watch,” full of physical play and back-and-forth between the two teams. Even in the closing minutes, Oregon guard Dylan Ennis said, he and Terrell were bantering with one another. But even in the moment, they appreciated a memorable finish.
“He was saying, ‘This is what we live for,’ ” Ennis said. “I think it was a little intense for it to be an emotional time between me and him, but he’s right.
“These are the type of games that you’re going to remember and tell your kids and grandkids about one day.”