N’Faly Dante’s debut became Francis Okoro’s showcase performance.
Oregon showed off its new frontcourt duo as Okoro had 12 points and a career-high 17 rebounds while Dante added 11 points in 14 minutes as the eighth-ranked Ducks defeated Montana 81-48 on Wednesday night in front of 5,803 at Matthew Knight Arena.
“I’m excited, I can’t wait to play together,” Okoro said of Dante, his new roommate. “I think I’ve got a chance to get rebounds because all eyes will be on N’Faly.”
Okoro’s 17 rebounds were the most for a Duck since Chris Boucher grabbed 19 against the Grizzlies three years ago. Thirteen of his rebounds came on the defensive end in 26 minutes during what the sophomore called his best college game.
“Tonight, I was just playing free saying I had to get a win for the team,” Okoro said. “My teammates made it possible for me. They boxed out and I was able to get rebounds.”
The 6-foot-11 Dante, a five-star freshman center who was not cleared by the NCAA to play for the Ducks until after fall term, took the court for the first time with 7:50 left in the first half and made a power move to the hoop for a layup on his first possession. He followed with back-to-back alley-oop dunks to give Oregon a 28-15 lead.
Dante scored the final basket of the first half as Oregon took a 37-24 lead at the break and he showed off a spin move for his lone basket of the second half. Dante was 5-for-8 from the field with two steals, two rebounds and one assist.
“I thought he could come out and give us a few minutes,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said, noting that Dante participated in two practices after becoming eligible on Saturday. “He finished a few plays and you can see he has a pretty good knack for passing. I thought defensively he was a step behind, but that is partly conditioning and the speed of the game. You can see his natural talent so I think as he gets in shape and gets more sets, he and Francis give us a physicality we’ve lacked.”
Altman subbed Okoro and Dante for each other, but said he could see them playing together as Boucher and Jordan Bell did for a couple of seasons.
“I think it helps Francis out having Dante because he can play the ‘4’,” UO guard Will Richardson said. “They work good together. Now having two physical bigs makes us much better.”
Okoro had seven of Oregon’s first 12 points and went on to match his career high in points while making 5 of 6 shots from the field.
“I’m proud of him,” said guard Will Richardson, who also lives with Okoro and Dante. “He is one of the hardest workers on the team and to see it pay off, sometimes he gets frustrated because his moves don’t work as well. Tonight he was more comfortable and it will be scary to see what he does in the future.”
Okoro is shooting 56.4% from the field after making 46.9% of his shots as a freshman.
“I’ve got some moves I’ve been working on, getting comfortable,” he said. “I just have to go out and play basketball, it is more fun for me that way.”
Chris Duarte and Okoro opened the second half with consecutive baskets and Montana got no closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Richardson and Payton Prichard led the Ducks with 14 points apiece and combined for 11 assists. Duarte added 12 points as Oregon shot 54.2% from the field.