Dramatic 2-OT win gives OSU Beavers new life
CORVALLIS — It turns out that resilience can trump blown opportunities when it comes to Oregon State basketball.
And just like that, the Beavers are believing again that a postseason can be in their immediate future.
Stevie Thompson Jr. saved face after twice missing on chances to secure victory for the Beavers, draining a 3-pointer with .3 of a second left in a 97-94 double-overtime win that left both participants and spectators exhausted Saturday night at Gill Coliseum.
With the score tied 80-80 and the clock running down in regulation, the 6-4 junior's short-range baseline shot hung tantilizingly on the rim before falling off. Tres Tinkle's rebound basket came a hair after time had expired.
With the score tied 87-87 and Thompson Jr. at the line for a pair of free throws with 3.3 ticks left in the first extra session, the son of assistant coach Stevie Thompson Sr. missed both attempts.
Even then, Thompson Jr. had the cajones to deliver the game-winning trey, conjuring visions of him doing the same thing in an 82-81 win over the Huskies when he was a freshman two years ago.
"Third time's the charm," Thompson Jr. said after redeeming himself, and then some.
"I never doubt Stevie," teammate Drew Eubanks said. "Even though he missed those two free throws, he's the most clutch guy I know. I never doubt him for a second."
Indeed, Thompson Jr. made three free throws with .1 of a second left and OSU trailing Utah 69-68 to beat the Utes 71-69 during that storied freshman campaign, when coach Wayne Tinkle took the Beavers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990.
That's not likely to happen this season for Oregon State, 13-11 overall and 5-7 in Pac-12 play heading into this week's games at UCLA on Thursday and Southern Cal on Saturday.
Not unless the Beavers — who stand 10th in the Pac-12 standings — win the conference postseason tournament, though that isn't as far-fetched as one might think.
Arizona (10-3) is the class of the conference, and California (2-11) and Washington State (1-11, if WSU loses Sunday to Oregon) are the dregs. The nine teams between them are stacked tight as copy paper. Only 2 1/2 games separate the teams tied for second at 8-5 (UCLA and USC) and Oregon State.
The Beavers can close the gap with wins in L.A. this week, though that will require a trend reversal. They've lost 19 straight road games, their last triumph coming at UCLA in their final road date of the 2015-16 season.
"We know how many it's been," acknowledged Tinkle, in his fourth season at the OSU helm. "I'm not sure if it's a mental thing, but we're battling in every one of those (losses). Now let's find a way to get that first one (this season) on the road."
Oregon State led through most of the first 30 minutes before falling 62-53 to the then-17th ranked Wildcats on Jan. 11 at Tucson. The Beavers shot poorly — .393 from the field and .375 (3 for 8) from the foul line.
That's been a common denominator.
"In most of our losses," Tinkle said, "we have not shot well."
That was the case through the first half against Washington. The Beavers were 1 for 7 from 3-point range and 1 for 6 from the line and were outrebounded 21-11, yet still trailed only 36-30.
"We challenged our guys at halftime," Tinkle said, and they responded, going 8 for 12 on 3-point attempts, 7 for 10 at the line and winning the boards, 24-16.
Oregon State finished at .556 — its high mark against a Pac-12 foe — and notched 27 assists on 40 baskets. Tinkle stationed his son, 6-8 sophomore Tres Tinkle, at the high post against the UW zone and let him operate with the ball, either driving to the basket or dishing to Eubanks.
Tinkle had one of the best games of his career, with 29 points on 12-for-22 shooting, 11 rebounds and a career-high eight assists.
Eubanks, who entered the week fourth in the league with a .623 field-goal percentage, is now at .639 after going 8 for 8 against the Huskies. The 6-10 junior collected 18 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Thompson Jr. tallied 18 of his 22 points after halftime and had six assists and six steals.
Those three players, though, account for nearly two-thirds of the OSU offense. The next two best players are freshmen — 6-5 Ethan Thompson, younger brother of Stevie, and 6-6 Alfred Hollins, who moved into the starting lineup against the Washington schools and showed impressive glimpses of his athleticism.
Lack of depth has been part of the reason the Beavers have dropped so many close games. All 11 losses have been by single digits. That's a startling stat. They've not been blown out of a game this season. Win even a few of those and you're still alive for an NCAA Tournament berth.
After losing four in a row, they went into last week's games with their Beaver tails between their legs. Then they punished Washington State 94-62 — their largest margin of victory over a Pac-12 opponent in 16 years — and survived the Dawgs in what radio play-by-play voice Mike Parker dubbed "an instant classic."
"We know that we can play with anybody in the league," Eubanks said. "We knew that before, but we had that losing streak, where maybe our confidence wasn't as high.
"We're one of the top teams when we come out and play. I know this will turn things around for us."
Perhaps. Oregon State beat UCLA 69-63 at Corvallis on Jan. 18 and led Southern Cal by seven points with eight minutes left before falling 74-67 two days later.
But there's that road hex. And the free-throw problem that has popped up too many times. And the thin bench, with Hollins' recent emergence giving hope there.
"Not sure if we'll start Alfred or (senior Seth) Berger, but Alfred was huge (against UW and WSU)," Tinkle said. "We knew he was going to be a great player. He's getting it going at the right time."
The Beavers need to do that, too. The NIT seems a reasonable goal, which a couple of road wins would solidify.
Tinkle is a hell of a man, respected by his players and beloved by fans. He seems the perfect representative of Beaver Nation, a guy who greets people by name and with a ready smile, who exchanges fist bumps across the officials' table and offers handshakes and hugs to those in wheelchairs adjacent the Beaver bench before games.
But a coach's team has to show results. A program must display progress. The jury remains out on the latter. The Beavers can address that, and the former, by doing it on the road in Tinseltown this week.