Oregon State's run to the Elite Eight may have been the biggest surprise of a surprise-laden NCAA tournament.
The journey came to a heartbreaking end on Monday.
Houston put the clamps down on the Pac-12 Cinderella early and fended off a furious second-half rally for a 67-61 win to punch its ticket to the Final Four. The trip to the national semifinals marks the first Final Four trip for the program since Hakeem Olajuwon led Phi Slamma Jamma to its second-straight title game appearance in 1984.
Houston dominates early, but ...
Houston, which allows just 57.5 points per game, set the tone early. Seven minutes into the game, Oregon State had more turnovers (five) than it did points as Houston opened up a 12-4 lead. Houston doubled up Oregon State at halftime, 34-17, holding the Beavers to the lowest halftime point total of any of its NCAA tournament opponents.
Beavers rally with behind defense after halftime
But the Beavers and head coach Wayne Tinkle had defensive tricks of their own. They flustered the Cougars after halftime with a 1-3-1 zone while while finding their own offensive rhythm in a 38-21 run. In a game that looked like a blowout early, Oregon State rallied for a 55-55 tie on a Gianni Hunt 3-pointer with 3:48 remaining. After struggling to hold on to the ball early, the Beavers didn't turn the ball over once while mounting the second-half rally.
But the final push belonged to Houston. Quentin Grimes responded with his own 3-pointer to retake the lead at 58-55. The Beavers wouldn't get within two points of the Cougars again as their unlikely tournament run met its end.
"Toughness. That's what coach (Kelvin Sampson) preached every day," Grimes told CBS of not caving after the OSU rally. "Tough teams are gonna win. That's what we went out there and did today.
"When it got close, coach told us to stay tough, stay poised, and that's what we did."
Grimes tallied 18 points and four assists in the win, including the 3-pointer to break the late tie. His backcourt mate Marcus Sasser led the scoring effort with 20 points and three assists while connecting of 5-of-13 3-point attempts. All-AAC guard and Defensive Player of the Year Dejon Jarreau filled up the box score with 10 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block.
Rebounding edge critical for Cougars
The Cougars exploited their biggest edge on the boards, where they outrebounded the Beavers, 41-29, including a 19-7 advantage on the offensive glass. They needed those second chances to fend off the Oregon State rally
After turning the ball over eight times and shooting 35% in the first half, Oregon State finished with just 10 turnovers and a more-than-respectable 46.8% success rate from the field. Forward Maurice Calloo led the rally off the bench with a team-high 13 points, eight of which arrived in the game's final 11 minutes.
Ethan Thompson — OSU's leading scorer — posted 11 points, but needed 12 shots to get there on a 3-of-12 shooting effort. He added seven rebounds and six assists.
It added up to a valiant rally from a team that wouldn't have even qualified for the NCAA tournament without a miracle run to the Pac-12 tournament title. It just wasn't enough on Monday against a Houston team that lived up to its tough billing.
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