SAN JOSE, Calif. — Every year in the NCAA Tournament, Cinderellas take the stage and steal the nation’s heart. The underdogs win games they're not supposed to and make an impact in the Tournament people don’t see coming.
Sunday night in San Jose, California, Oregon men’s basketball ceded a 12-point halftime lead to UC Irvine five minutes into the second half of its second round game. The Anteaters had all the momentum.
Oregon senior guard Ehab Amin substituted into the game. Two minutes later, Amin hit a 3-pointer, putting the Ducks up one point. Ten seconds later, Amin drew a charge at half court, then freshman Louis King hit a 3. On the UC Irvine inbound, Amin pressed the ball handler. He struggled and couldn’t cross the half court line in 10 seconds, and the Ducks had the ball and the momentum again.
“I think that got me going, definitely,” Amin said. “When I get some steals or deflections or rebounds, that gets me and my teammates going on the offensive end.”
It got Oregon going, and the Ducks outscored the Anteaters 31-17 after that series. It all began with the play of the fifth-year senior, who entered the game as role player. But in the 73-54 victory, he played the biggest role in the win. He was the Cinderella of Oregon’s second-round game.
Amin, from Alexandria, Egypt, transferred to Oregon with hopes of making the Tournament. He is a defensive specialist, providing little for the Ducks on offense all season. But he does the dirty work.
“I think that’s what I bring to the table with this team, you know?” Amin said. “Just the energy, 50/50 balls, loose balls, steals, deflections … then just get my teammates going.”
That’s what happened Sunday night. He subbed in the first half and provided energy. He dove for loose balls, even crashing into the scorers' table while fighting for a ball. In the first half he had six points — 2-for-2 from 3 — two offensive rebounds and two steals. He finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds and three steals.
“It shows us how much we have to put ourselves on the line too, and that intensity that we have to play with,” Oregon center Kenny Wooten said. Wooten had himself a game as well, finishing with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks.
But Amin played his best when Oregon needed him most. Oregon hit its rough patch right before Amin stepped in, and Oregon exploded from there.
“I think when your teammates see you play like that, all out, they bring it too,” Amin said. “I think that’s what happened in the second half. Everybody played as hard as they can and played together, and I think after I did that we got the double-digit lead and it was over after that.”
This is Amin’s last season, and all throughout Oregon’s postseason run he’s said March Madness is why he came to Oregon. If he keeps contributing like this, they could be competing for more than just one more game.
“The NCAA Tournament was definitely one of my dreams,” he said. “I don’t want to wake up. I don’t want it to end, so hopefully we keep dancing.”
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917