Paris McCurdy had talked a good game all afternoon, but he did not play one until the very end, which was when he had the final word.
Inspired by Gary Payton's reputation for on-court conversation, McCurdy set out to outdo him Thursday, although Payton on this day wasn't particularly willing to tangle.
But with Payton on the bench after fouling out with 2:18 left, McCurdy became the instrument of Oregon State's undoing, hitting a free throw with no time left to complete a three-point play and give Ball State a 54-53 upset of Oregon State in the first round of the NCAA West Regional.
Payton's remarkable career ended the way Oregon State's season did. The Beavers lost their past three games; Payton scored only 11 points against Ball State, making only three of 12 shots.
"I had all my shots. I just missed them," Payton said. "The ball did not go down. I can't have a good game every game."
Payton was criticized when he suggested that he had not tried his hardest in the Beavers' regular-season finale, an 87-60 loss to Arizona in which he scored five points, the only time he has not reached double figures this season. But there was no question that he was trying this time.
"It's a heartbreaking way to lose," Payton said. "It happened to us two years in a row. I just feel really bad."
Oregon State, which was upset by Arizona State in the Pacific 10 Conference tournament, lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row. The Beavers have not advanced past the first round in their past five appearances and have not won an NCAA tournament game since 1982, when they lost to Georgetown in a regional final.
"It was almost as if it was in the cards that it wasn't going to be for us again today," said Jim Anderson, who is in his first season as a head coach after 27 years as an assistant. "It seems like we had the kiss of death. Things are going bad, and then they steamroll."
Oregon State (22-7), seeded fifth in the West, seemed to have fended off 12th-seeded Ball State after Teo Alibegovic gave the Beavers' a two-point lead with four seconds left.
Ball State (25-6) took a timeout, and then threw a length-of-the-court pass meant for Chandler Thompson, who led the Cardinals with 24 points.
Chandler jumped to control the ball, but lost it out of bounds as he tried to get off a shot.
Instead of ending Ball State's chances, it gave the Cardinals another, better chance.
"The crucial play was the long pass," Anderson said.
Mike Spicer took the ball out underneath the basket and Thompson set a screen for McCurdy, who hit a four-foot jump shot as time ran out. Karl Anderson was called for a foul on the play, sending McCurdy to the line.
"I'm not going to fake it," McCurdy said. "When I went to the line, I was nervous. But we had tied the game. What could we do? The worst was go to overtime."
With 10,020 watching, McCurdy sank the shot, giving Ball State a first-round victory for the second year in a row. By coincidence, the coach of last year's 29-3 team that defeated Pittsburgh in the first round was on hand. Rick Majerus, the first-year coach of the University of Utah who underwent multiple bypass surgery in December, was watching from the sidelines of the Huntsman Center, the Utes' home arena.
"You can put this down," McCurdy said. "That was for him."
Although McCurdy, a 6-7 forward, is the Cardinals' leading scorer and rebounder, he spent much of the game preoccupied with Payton.
"He was the main one talking all the time," Payton said. "I couldn't get into that. Every time I got a foul he wanted to come clapping in my face. He just wanted to do that."
McCurdy wasn't having much of a game himself in the meantime, making two of his first 10 shots, and finishing with only nine points, including the three-point play. He also committed five turnovers.
"I felt like I didn't play like I normally do today," McCurdy said. "I had a bad game."
McCurdy and Payton met each other early. o Payton was called for his first foul when he ran into a screen set by McCurdy and McCurdy was called for a push on Payton in the backcourt.
Payton picked up his third foul with 3:47 to play in the first half, but he helped Oregon State turn what had been an eight-point deficit into a lead. Payton gave the Beavers their first lead of the game when he hit a three-point shot with 1:39 left.
He committed his fourth foul in the first three minutes of the second half, and sat down until seven minutes remained.
Oregon State went from one point down to three points ahead, 43-40, during his absence.
Neither team scored a field goal for a stretch of 8:32. That ended when Alibegovic scored with four seconds left.
The Beavers also stumbled at the line down the stretch, missing three of five free throws in the final four minutes.
"During crunch time, we missed some free throws and made some silly fouls," Anderson said.
After the game, McCurdy came into a room that Payton had just left. Before he answered any questions, he asked one of his own.
"Did you ask Gary if he knew who Ball State was when he came in here?" he asked.
It was one more finger in the face of a team that was already headed home.