GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jordan Bell has been perhaps the most productive and consistent player in the 2017 NCAA tournament. The Oregon junior center emerged as a breakout star in March when regular starter Chris Boucher went down with a torn ACL right before the tournament started.
Many people wrote off Oregon’s chances at making a deep tournament run when Boucher was lost with his season-ending injury. Bell quickly made people forget about the injury with double-doubles in four of five tourney games while helping carry the Ducks to the Final Four.
But for as good as Bell has been over the past few weeks, he’ll forever be associated with the final six seconds of North Carolina’s 77-76 win over Oregon in the second national semifinal on Saturday night.
With Tar Heels big man Kennedy Meeks shooting free throws with a one-point lead, the Ducks just needed a couple of misses and a big defensive rebound to get one more chance to tie or win the game. Meeks did his part by missing both free throws, but the second miss was back-tapped by North Carolina’s Theo Pinson, as he out-jumped Bell for the rebound. Tar Heel point guard Joel Berry II ended up with the ball and was fouled with four seconds left.
Once again, Berry did everything he could to help Oregon stay in the game by missing both free throws but Bell was again outrebounded after missing a boxout — this time by Meeks.
Bell was so emotional after the loss that he buried his head in his hands in the corner of the court for a good 20 seconds as the magnitude of everything that had happened finally hit. With tears in his eyes and his voice barely reaching a whisper, Bell recounted his version of the final six seconds as cameras and reporters surrounded his locker.
“The first one, he just out-jumped me,” Bell said of Pinson’s back-tap. “He wanted it more. I guess…”
“I thought I had the second one, then [Meeks] just took it from me.”
“If I had just boxed out… I had two opportunities. People can tell me whatever they want, but I lost the game for us.”
Bell’s blunders on the defensive glass are going to be remembered by many as one of the primary reasons that Oregon was eliminated from the Final Four. It should also be noted that Bell had another productive night, finishing with 13 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, when other key players Oregon like Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey couldn’t get much going offensively. Brooks and Dorsey combined to go 5-for-22 from the field on Saturday as Oregon was 7-for-26 from three-point range.
The other Ducks were quick to come to Bell’s defense when asked about the missed defensive rebounds.
“They told me it wasn’t my fault and that it didn’t come down to one play,” Bell said.
“He’s been playing great for us. He’s been snatching those boards. We felt that we should have boxed out and gotten one of those rebounds,” Dorsey said. “But without him, we wouldn’t be in this position. So, you can’t look at that and say it was the key to the game because it wasn’t. There were other opportunities before that. We just didn’t capitalize. But it hurts him a lot that he didn’t get that rebound because he’s been doing that this whole tournament.”
People will likely forget that Bell had a key offensive putback off of an Oregon missed free throw late in the Sweet 16 win over Michigan. Or that Bell was the most dominant player on the floor against No. 1 seed Kansas in the Elite Eight when he had 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks.
Bell might have blamed himself for the loss but it’s not his direct fault that Oregon is out of the NCAA tournament. Anyone who watched the Ducks take bad shots down the stretch time-after-time against North Carolina can attest to that. But, fair or not, people will remember Bell’s missed boxouts more than anything else he accomplished in the 2017 NCAA tournament.