SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Star big man Chris Boucher carefully stood with his bulky knee brace to pump his arms and cheer his teammates at every chance. He shimmied his shoulders in delight to celebrate the Oregon Ducks and what they were doing on the big stage without him.
Not quite the shot-blocking menace on the sidelines that he is on the floor for Oregon. He’s doing his part.
The Ducks advanced in the NCAA Tournament in large part because each player committed to do all the little things that Boucher brings on both ends.
Tyler Dorsey scored 24 points to lead four players in double figures, and No. 3 seed Oregon beat 14th-seeded Iona 93-77 on Friday in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region.
The Ducks (30-5) showed they have depth and sheer athleticism to make a special March run, just as coach Dana Altman hoped this week when he challenged role players to make larger contributions in Boucher’s absence.
“Him being on the sideline is just like him being on the floor chemistry-wise,” Dylan Ennis said. “He’s physically not there but he’s so much a part of our team encouraging us. Obviously not having him out there, it’s a different look. If all of us just stay active on defense, hopefully we can make up for him being out.”
Iona star Jordan Washington gave his team a huge scare when he went down hard under Oregon’s basket, screaming in pain and grabbing his lower left leg with 1:12 to go before halftime. But the senior forward returned to start the second half and finished with 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting and 11 rebounds in his final college game for the Gaels (22-13).
Boucher was relegated to a cheerleading role for the Ducks, who shared the Pac-12 regular-season crown with Arizona then lost by three points to the Wildcats in the conference tournament final after Boucher tore his left ACL in the semifinals.
While this is hardly the kind of finish Boucher envisioned for his final collegiate season, his teammates so appreciate the way he keeps contributing.
Oregon, which had its 27-point lead trimmed to 13 in the second half before holding on, shot 63.6 percent with only three turnovers in the first half to take control, began the second half with a 10-1 burst and went 55.6 percent from the floor overall.
Dillon Brooks scored 18 points and Payton Pritchard 16 points and Jordan Bell 17 with 12 boards.
“We have a lot of guys who are very confident in their ability to score a basket,” Altman said.
For Iona, Washington limped off with help just before halftime at first-year Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA Sacramento Kings.
He brought energy on both ends to lead the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champs, driving for a pretty spin move with 11:46 left in the first half then taking a charge from Dorsey moments later. He then drew another one.
Washington scored 14 of his team’s initial 18 points, but Oregon led 55-37 at halftime. He had an X-ray, believing he injured his shin.
Sam Cassell Jr., son of the former NBA star, scored 16 points in his final collegiate game. He pumped his arms and kicked out a leg when Oregon called timeout after Iona pulled to 29-26 with 8:35 to play in the first half on consecutive 3s by Cassell and E.J. Crawford.
“They got out in transition. Our bad shots led to their fast-break layups,” Cassell Jr. said.
Bell delivered back-to-back layins as the Ducks answered, then his putback with 4:27 left in the half extended Oregon’s lead to 41-33.
“This year we have a confident bunch,” Brooks said. “We’re thinking about one goal and one goal only.”
Iona: Coach Tim Cluess said afterward G Rickey McGill played with a broken hand. … Iona shot just 3 for 11 from 3-point range in the first half before hitting seven second-half 3s. … The Gaels were outrebounded 40-27. … They faced Oregon for the first time.
Oregon: The Ducks have won at least one NCAA game in five straight years. … In the first half, Bell became the school’s career NCAA Tournament rebounding leader, passing former teammate Elgin Cook’s 49. … Brooks moved into fourth place on the Ducks’ single-season scoring list.
Oregon advances to play Sunday against the winner of Friday’s second game between sixth-seeded Creighton (25-9) and No. 11 Rhode Island (24-9).