For Beaver basketball, another unforgivable loss
CORVALLIS -- The good news: Suspended forward Devon Collier will return when Oregon State plays host to the University of Portland Wednesday night at Gill Coliseum.
The bad news: Just about everything else.
The Beavers dropped their opener 78-73 Sunday night to a Coppin State team that went 8-24 last season and was missing its leading returning scorer and rebounder, injured forward Michael Murray.
Oregon State was minus two of its top three players, Collier and suspended forward Eric Moreland. Even so, the Beavers should have been able to find a way to win at home against an opponent picked to finish ninth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference this season, one that got drilled 83-64 in its opener Friday night at California.
Coppin State -- an historically black college located in Baltimore -- came into the game 0-16 in its history against Pac-12 teams. Maybe Sunday's result was inevitable, though; no conference beats the Eagles 17 times in a row.
After a sluggish start by both teams, Coppin State took the lead at 13-10 with nine minutes left in the first half and never trailed again. To that point, Oregon State had as many airballs as baskets (four). The visitors led by 13 late in the first half and 36-26 at intermission.
Oregon State made its runs in the second half, drawing to within 62-61 while owning the ball with five minutes left.
The Eagles were the ones making the plays down the stretch, though, leaving the Beavers smarting from another in a series of embarrassing losses in the Craig Robinson era.
It was also a big win for Ron "Fang" Mitchell, in his 28th season as Coppin State's head coach. (Fang got his nickname from a high school teammate because his gruff voice reminded of a giant dog character in the old "Soupy Sales" show. I'm not kidding.)
"I got a young team," Mitchell said afterward. "To be able to come out here and see them keep their composure down the stretch that's so important to what we're trying to accomplish."
What did the Eagles do better than they did against California?
"We played a lot better defense," he said. "We didn't give up the easy baskets like we did at Cal. (The Beavers) couldn't get off on their break. That was very important, and the rebounding, too (a 40-36 Coppin State advantage). I wanted them to play together as a team, and they did a hell of a job of that."
How does Oregon State measure up to Cal?
"I'm not trying to compare right now," Mitchell said. "Oregon State is playing without two of their better players. I think they'll be all right once they get everybody together."
Robinson said effort wasn't a problem with his players. Execution was.
"If we follow our game plan like we did today, it's going to be a long season," said Robinson, beginning his sixth season at the OSU helm. "But I'm sure we're not. We're all going to do a better job, myself included."
Robinson's game plan, he revealed, was to work the ball inside against the smaller Eagles. With Collier and Moreland on the bench in street clothes, 6-10 Australian Angus Brandt, served as Oregon State's only post-up threat. Brandt was a non-factor in the first half, contributing two points and one rebound. The senior center finished with 13 points and seven boards, but it was too little, too late.
"We didn't lose the game at the end," OSU guard Roberto Nelson observed correctly. "We lost this one early."
Nelson did all he could. The 6-4 senior was a veritable one-man show, bombing in a career-high 36 points while making 12 of 26 shots from the field and 9 of 12 at the foul line. His teammates combined for 37 points and 11 field goals as the Beavers shot .390 from the field and .259 (7 for 27) from 3-point range.
Robinson seemed satisfied with the plan he prepared for his players, dissatisfied with their ability to implement it. The three things the Beavers didn't want to do, he said, was turn the ball over, give up a lot of 3-pointers and let the Eagles get to the offensive boards.
Oregon State had only nine turnovers. Coppin State was 10 for 25 from 3-point range, a nine-point advantage in that department over the Beavers. And the Eagles snared 11 offensive rebounds, nine in the first half.
"I'm disappointed with the execution of our strategy," Robinson said. "We wanted to go inside on those guys early and we just didn't. Half our shots in the first half were 3's. That's not the formula for this team to win games.
"I chalk this up to completely not following the game plan. If we (follow it), this isn't a close game."
A rather bold statement, given that the Beavers never led after the opening minutes and showed little to suggest they might have blown out the Eagles if they'd pounded the ball inside.
After Nelson picked up his third foul with 15:23 to play, Robinson went to a zone defense to protect the only player he had going offensively. Wise move, helping keep Nelson in the game.
When Nelson was whistled for his fourth personal with 4:10 left, though, Robinson chose to play offense/defense with Nelson and Jarmal Reid the rest of the way. In using that strategy, getting Nelson back was dependent upon stoppage of play. The Beavers, trailing 69-62 at the time, simply couldn't afford to be without their only real offensive threat. He had to be on the floor, and Robinson had to trust that a savvy senior guard could avoid disqualification.
Once OSU cut the margin to 70-68 on a Nelson layup with 1:10 remaining, Robinson should have switched back to man-to-man defense. Make the presumably less-talented Eagles beat you one-on-one. He stuck with the zone. Twenty-eight seconds later, Coppin State's Sterling Smith knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner to effectively bury the Beavers.
"It's not on coach," Nelson said, speaking not specifically of Smith's basket but about Oregon State's zone in general. "We were rotating wrong. We were just running around in the wrong spots."
Since Robinson took over the program in 2008, the Beavers have made a practice of losing non-conference games they should win. The first year there were Howard, Yale and Montana State. The next year, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (67-43), Sacramento State, Illinois-Chicago and Seattle (99-48 at home!). The third season Seattle again, Texas Southern, Utah Valley and Montana. In 2011-12 there was Idaho and last season, Towson came into Gill and stole away with an overtime victory.
Pac-12 teams schedule such opponents to bolster their records come post-season tournament time. Too often, the Beavers have been unable to take care of business in that regard.
The announced attendance Sunday night was 4,062, a reflection of interest in OSU basketball these days. There is sad resignation in Beaver Nation that Robinson is not going to get the job done.
"I had two free tickets to the game tonight, and it was still a ripoff," wrote one post on a message board. "I don't care if half our team was missing. A Pac-12 school should never lose at home to Coppin State. I would have left at halftime if it weren't of the cheerleaders."
The OSU cheerleaders looked quite good, I have to agree.
One Twitter poster ended his observation on the coach with "#nomoreyears."
Actually, Robinson has four more years, and $5.2 million, left on his contract thanks to a pair of extensions given by athletic director Bob De Carolis. That leaves Robinson with job security at least through next season, one would presume.
So the onus is on the coach to get the ball rolling. The return of the 6-8 Collier, by far the Beavers' best post-up player, will make a difference.
"It's going to help a lot," Robinson said. "A talented player like Devon not being in your lineup has its effects."
The 6-10 Moreland -- Oregon State's best rebounder and shot-blocker -- won't be available until Jan. 9 against Stanford, the third conference game.
"I've been talking about weathering the storm 'til those two guys get back," Robinson said. "We're such a different team with those two guys."
By now, though, Robinson should have recruited well enough that losing two players is not such an issue.
The coach took forever to get to the media room after Sunday's game. When he arrived, Robinson said he had spoken a long time to his players.
"I told the guys, 'No one expected us to go 32-0. Focus on the next game,' " he said. "It's my job to keep these guys positive and confident."
At halftime, the Beaver pep band cranked out Journey's hopeful "Don't Stop Believing."
With the Oregon State faithful, it's already too late for that.