Oregon was nearly trailing by double digits when Ehab Amin spoke up.
The senior guard saw the Ducks on the verge of digging another deficit too deep for a comeback against San Diego, which was threatening to become the second double-digit underdog to stun Oregon at Matthew Knight Arena this season.
“Ehab started yelling at us to put our hands up and play more defense,” freshman Bol Bol said. “In previous games we would go down a lot more and we didn’t want that to happen.”
San Diego took its largest lead at 29-20 before Amin backed up his words on the court by getting a steal on three straight possessions to start an 11-3 run by the Ducks (6-3) to close out the first half. Oregon moved into the lead early in the second half and stretched out a 65-55 win over the Toreros on Wednesday night in front of 7,191.
“It was going to be Houston 2.0 and at home, you can’t let that happen,” Amin said in reference to Oregon’s 65-61 loss at Houston earlier this month when UO fell behind by 19 points at halftime. “We get down 10 or 20 and then we start playing hard.”
Amin’s three straight steals only led to two points, but seemed to spark Oregon’s defense and spook San Diego (8-3), which committed a turnover on seven of its final nine possessions of the half.
“Ehab’s energy really turned the game around,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
Bol opened the second half with back-to-back jumpers and then drove for a basket that put Oregon ahead 39-37. The 7-foot-2 center blocked a shot at the other end to keep a lead that the Ducks would not relinquish.
Bol had four of Oregon’s six blocks that helped convince San Diego to attempt 28 of its 49 field goals from behind the three-point line. Amin had four of a season-high 11 steals for the Ducks, who had 11 points off 16 turnovers by USD.
“It started with the guards playing real good defense,” Bol said. “That lets them into us and we start blocking shots and that is why they are going outside to shoot three-pointers.”
San Diego shot 47.8 percent from the field in the first half before falling off to 34.6 during the final 20 minutes. After San Diego had an 18-11 edge in rebounds during the first half, the Ducks had a 24-13 advantage in the second half.
“The biggest change was rebounding,” Altman said. “That was a big factor and Bol’s activity blocking shots gave us a big lift. We were getting a bit more aggressive on defense and had active hands.”
Bol led the Ducks with 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting. There were no highlight dunks as he showed off a variety of jumpers and hook shots in addition to two three-pointers.
“It is really where my teammates give me the ball and where I am open,” he said. “Tonight, it was mostly mid-range.”
Payton Pritchard added 12 points to go with seven assists and six rebounds. Freshman Will Richardson got his second straight start and finished with seven points and three steals.
Louis King had two points and three rebounds in 14 minutes during his second game after missing the start of the season with a knee injury. He could have played more minutes, but picked up two early fouls and went 1-for-5 from the field.
San Diego closed within 45-44 on a three-pointer by Isaiah Wright with 9:31 left. The Toreros had two turnovers and two missed shots on their next four possessions while Oregon added four free throws at the other end.
Bol made a hook shot and Pritchard hit a three-pointer from the corner before Bol made back-to-back shots to put Oregon ahead 58-50. After Tyler Williams hit a three-pointer for San Diego, King hit a short jumper for his only points to push Oregon ahead 60-53 with 3:01 left.
“That’s a good win for us,” Altman said of beating San Diego, which entered the game at No. 49 in the NCAA’s Net rankings. “Now we have to finish our nonconference schedule real strong.”