The undefeated Trojans rolled into Corvallis 13-0 and left with their unblemished record in tact. Stevie Thompson Jr. overcame a poor first half shooting performance to end the game with a team-high 24 points, leading the Beavers back from as high as an 18 point deficit in a chippy game at Gill.
The Beavers maintained the same starting lineup as they have in the last few games, with walk-on Matt Dahlen getting another start, as well as Kendal Manuel staying in the lineup in place of the struggling JUCO transfer Ronnie Stacy. Tres Tinkle continues to sit out with his wrist injury, likely not to return until after next week.
The Beavers played probably their best five minutes of the season after the tip, which is just about the only silver lining I can come up with from the first half. They started in an aggressive zone, getting several hands on the ball and drawing an offensive foul, which was refreshing to see given the Beavers lack of defensive identity in non-conference play. Nothing wakes a team up like a ranked opponent coming to your home court, right?
Despite a new intensity on defense, the offensive struggles (really they’ve moved from struggles to full blow trials and tribulations at this point) continued. Four possessions in the first half ended in a frantic shot attempt barely grazing the rim as the shot clock expired. Though Wayne Tinkle’s strategy going into the game was to attempt to slow the game down against a longer and more athletic team by taking shots late in the shot clock, we struggled to get anything remotely resembling a flow in the first half. Drew Eubanks didn’t score until under the four-minute mark. Stevie Thompson Jr. continued his sophomore slump in the first half, shooting 0-2 from three and only 2-6 from the field. The Beavers shot only 25% from as a team in the half and lost the battle of the boards 26-14.
After scoring just 17 points as a team in the first half, the Beavers came out with Ben Kone starting in place of Matt Dahlen in a move that likely will stay in place for the starting lineup throughout the rest of the season. Kone has had more and more playing time added as he returns to basketball shape after sitting out the start of the year with his ACL recovery. Ben Kone is so important. He actually cares and talks and wants to win. He got a technical foul called on him about 4 minutes into the second half for mocking the player he forced into traveling with his defense and it was so perfect I wanted to get a Ben Kone tattoo on my chest. Thank you so much for caring, Ben. Also yes I am aware that Ben Kone has an accent over the ‘e’ in Kone but he’s gotta get at least one more petty technical before I take the time to put the accent in his last name.
Ben Kone’s technical foul ended up being the first of several on the Beavers, which was weirdly satisfying. After being fouled with no call on a rebound, Drew Eubanks turned around and allegedly stomped on the guy that fouled him. On that same play, Tanner Sanders came off the bench to defend Drew’s honor. The sequence ended up giving Drew a tech and having Tanner ejected for coming off the bench.
The technical fouls worked. As it turns out, uniting against a physical opponent and questionable refereeing is all it takes for a team to finally find an identity. Even though the Beavers couldn’t overcome the poor first half, they ended up winning the second half in almost every statistical category. For the first time all year, Oregon State played in a chippy game and came back from a large deficit against a better team.
The Beavers ended up shooting 39% from the field, with both Drew Eubanks and Stevie Thompson Jr. finishing in double digit scoring. Free throws continue to haunt OSU, going just over 50% on the night. Oregon State is currently the worst free throw shooting team in the Pac-12. But the Beavs kept the game close by shortening the rebounding gap, cutting it to 39-36 by the end of the game. They also only turned the ball over 8 times, one of the best turnover margins of the year.
Also for the first time all season, the Beavers played a good team. It’s funny how sports work; that mental thing where you play down to your competition, or play hard when a good team comes to town. The “22” next to USC finally woke the Beavers up. For the first time this year, there’s hope.
The Beavers host another ranked team this Friday, only this time it’s going to be a very angry UCLA team. UCLA, the number two ranked team in the nation, lost tonight in Eugene to that other school in Oregon on a last second shot. Welcome to conference play!