For a second, it looked like the Pac-12 was going to do it again.
Despite trailing by 17 at the half, 12-seed Oregon State charged back in the second half of their Elite Eight showdown against two-seed Houston on Monday night. Could this oft-beleaguered conference’s momentum keep on trucking and get a double-digit seed into the Final Four? It was definitely possible for the Beavers … if only they could have cleared the glass. Thanks to a whopping 19 offensive rebounds, it was, instead, the Cougars who moved on to the Final Four, the school’s first foray this deep in the NCAA men’s tournament in 37 years.
The difference in athleticism between these two teams was ridiculous for most of the game, and downright frightening for long stretches. In the first half, Oregon State could not do much of anything, turning the ball over seemingly every other time down the floor. Their high-powered offense could only muster a measly 17 points in the first 20 minutes, while Houston’s swarming defense led to easy buckets on the other end. It looked like Oregon State’s run to the Elite Eight would be their end.
Then the Beavers stormed back in the second half, hitting some wild shots while momentarily stopping the deluge of easy buckets off offensive rebounds from Houston. Though the Beavers’ star player, Ethan Thompson, was shut down on the night—only 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting—Oregon State started generating looks against Houston’s top-ranked field goal percentage unit, and even tied the game with 3:48 left off a Gianni Hunt banked three-pointer.
Pac-12 momentum was back in play, until Houston got back to dominating the offensive glass. It’s hard to overstate how wild the Cougars got on the offensive rebounds; for the game, Houston had those 19 offensive rebounds to Oregon State’s 22 defensive rebounds. From Hunt’s tying three-pointer until the end of the game, Houston had eight offensive rebounds, or roughly two per minute. On every miss, it felt like Houston was sending three or four players into the paint, and they all seemed to jump just a bit higher than their Beaver counterparts. There’s a reason the Cougars were third in the nation in offensive boards for the season, and they lived up to that reputation on Monday: For the game, Houston took 62 shots to Oregon State’s 47, offsetting a poor shooting night for the Cougars—only 32.3 percent on the night, though they did hit 11-of-32 from deep—by sheer muscle.
It didn’t hurt that Houston’s own leading scorer, Quentin Grimes, stepped up where Thompson didn’t for Oregon State. He hit two clutch threes late on, including one to put his team up 58-55 with 3:22 left, a lead they would not relinquish again.
Basketball games are complex and ever-changing, and this one was no different. After the initial Houston onslaught, it seemed like a typical 2-vs.-12 beatdown, but Oregon State did some magic of their own to bring it back. And sure, if Oregon State had shot better from the line—11-of-20 after shooting out of their collective minds in the previous rounds—or if Houston hadn’t opened up such a huge lead early on, the game could have different.
Yet, with all the ups and downs, it really just came down to one stat. In the end, Houston grabbed far more second chance opportunities, converted just enough of those to hang on tight, and now the school has its first Final Four team since Phi Slama Jama. Sometimes, it’s just that simple.