CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Scott Rueck’s first win didn’t come easily. His 500th was no cakewalk, either.
Kennedy Brown scored 16 points, and No. 7 Oregon State had to rally in the second half to beat Liberty 68-55 on Saturday to win the Miami Thanksgiving Classic and give Rueck his milestone — exactly 23 years to the day after his first triumph.
“Give Liberty a lot of credit,” Rueck said. “They came out with a lot of energy and came out looking like they wanted to knock off a ranked team.”
Not that many got to see Rueck’s big moment. The arena was almost completely empty, with perhaps no more than 50 fans in attendance.
Mikayla Pivec scored 14 and Aleah Goodman had 13 for the Beavers (7-0), who went on an 11-1 run in the second half to take the lead for good.
“We didn’t have a lot of energy early,” Pivec said.
Ashtyn Baker scored 15 for Liberty (2-6), which has lost 29 consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Flames were outscored 43-25 after halftime.
On paper, this was supposed to be a mismatch. Oregon State came in unbeaten. Liberty won its opener, then arrived in Coral Gables on a five-game losing streak before topping Miami of Ohio on Friday. And the Flames hadn’t beaten an opponent from the AP Top 25 since 2005.
An 11-0 run by Liberty in the opening minutes sent the Flames out to a 13-4 lead, and after Oregon State got back within 20-19 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Jasmine Simmons and Destiny Slocum, the Flames took off on another spurt.
This time, it was a 9-0 burst to rebuild a 29-19 lead. Oregon State didn’t take the lead for good until late in the third, and eventually Rueck got to leave with the game ball as a keepsake.
“What a privilege to be able to do something long enough to get there,” said Rueck, who won 288 games at George Fox and now has 212 wins with the Beavers. “Anytime you hit something like that, it causes you to reflect. I think back to win No. 1. I can picture it like it was yesterday. A double-overtime win at Vanguard University in Los Angeles.”
Vanguard was called Southern California College back then, but Rueck still had the details down perfectly — 70-66 on Nov. 30, 1996. It was the win that got him on his way, and the memories have been piling up since.
He went to the NCAA Division III tournament with George Fox seven times, going 32-0 and winning the 2009 national title. With the Beavers, he’s reached six straight NCAA tournaments, made the Final Four in 2016 — and this team has designs on even bigger prizes.
“We were told this morning he was on 499,” Pivec said. “We wanted to do this.”
Rueck’s coaching career started 30 years ago, when he was hired as an assistant boys basketball coach at a high school in Corvallis, Oregon, home of the Beavers. He became an assistant at George Fox in 1993, took a one-year stint as the women’s tennis coach there in 1995, became interim women’s coach a year later.
Now 500 wins later, the rest is history.
“I think about the amazing people I’ve gotten to coach and the teams I’ve been a part of,” Rueck said. “It’s nothing but an absolute privilege to get to do this that long. So yes, it’s very special.”
Liberty: Bridgette Rettstatt scored 12 and Emily Lytle came off the bench to score 10 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Flames. ... Combined, the two coaches walked off the floor with 958 wins — Liberty’s Carey Green is 458-190 in his 21 years with the Flames.
Oregon State: The tone for a struggle was set early, when the Beavers missed 12 of their first 14 shots. ... Oregon State was just 6 for 27 from 3-point range.
This was the first of at least three trips to the state of Florida this season for Liberty. The Flames visit Florida Gulf Coast on Jan. 6, then face Stetson and North Florida — like FGCU, also Atlantic Sun Conference opponents — on Jan. 25 and 27.
Liberty: Hosts East Carolina on Tuesday.
Oregon State: Hosts Hawaii on Friday.