Illinois was about to take a 10-point lead with less than 10 minutes left that would’ve significantly lowered Oregon’s comeback chances.
But Rayvonte Rice’s three-point attempt rimmed out. On the other end, Portland native Mike Moser drove into the lane, missed the shot but rebounded his own miss and layed it in. The deficit was cut to five and the energy from the Moda Center crowd slowly started to rise.
Illinois scored a few possessions later but Jason Calliste answered with a three to make the score 54-50 in favor of the road team.
One play later, the crowd exploded.
Elgin Cook viciously blocked Joseph Bertrand with two hands, which caused Ducks fans to jump out of their seats in cheer. A mere five seconds later, Cook finished a dunk on the other end, which brought the crowd into a frenzy. The Ducks outscored the Illini 19-10 the rest of the way to win their ninth game in as many chances.
That two-minute sequence was one of several instances of intense crowd atmosphere on Saturday night in Portland. Much of the noise happened before the Ducks took the lead late, too.
“When we were down, they tried to pick us up,” head coach Dana Altman said of the fans. “I thought that was big.”
Moser said the last 10 minutes of the game was the “best segment of defense” the Ducks have played all season. Altman noticed that the crowd noise was at its best at that point, as well.
“We didn’t give much to cheer about for a long time but they really helped us out,” Altman said. “The last 10 minutes, I thought the atmosphere was really good.”
The game was technically a neutral site, but forward Damyean Dotson said it didn’t feel much different than a home game at Matthew Knight Arena. If anything, the crowd was louder (paid attendance was 10,043).
“It makes us feel like we’re at home,” Dotson said. “That’s kind of an advantage for us, just feeding off that and just getting hyped and letting our play get the crowd hyped.”
Illinois drew a healthy crowd despite their fans having to travel much farther than Ducks fans. At a couple points, the Illini fans in attendance chanted “I-L-L … I-N-I.” Oregon fans immediately responded with “Let’s go Ducks.”
“The Illini had a few people there and they were pretty loud,” Altman said. “I think it inspired our crowd.”
Moser had a little extra support at the Moda Center than his teammates. 100-150 family members and friends came out to watch the redshirt senior play on Saturday. He said it all added to the hard-fought win.
“It was really special to be able to have all my family, friends, my mom there in a packed arena,” Moser said. “Oregon fans came out in great numbers and we really appreciate all the support they’ve been giving us. It felt amazing.”
Altman echoed Moser’s comment about fan appreciation. Altman said their performance, while not quite up to his standards, was a good way to give back to the fans who made the drive up from Eugene to Portland.
“Portland’s very important to us,” Altman said. “The fans driving two hours to come see us play football, basketball, all our sports is critical to our success. But I think it’s important they know how much we appreciate them making the two-hour drive.”
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415