Beavers need to turn things around on the court
A look at Oregon State (6-3) as the Beavers prepare for Pepperdine (6-5), 7 p.m. Monday at Gill Coliseum …
• Coach Wayne Tinkle's fifth OSU club was 6-1 and in excellent position last week as it entered into a road contest with St. Louis and a Moda Center date with Texas A&M — both extremely winnable games. The Beavers were coming off a sensational offensive performance in a 101-77 win over Missouri State, the first 100-point game of the Tinkle era.
Close losses to the Billikens (65-61) and Aggies (67-64), however, cast some doubts as to whether the Beavers can be contenders for meaningful postseason action.
Oregon State simply can't afford to have defeats against teams such as St. Louis (7-2) and Texas A&M (4-4) on its resume. The Billikens boast a strong RPI (57th), and that one was on the road. But the Aggies are 125th, even after beating OSU.
By all appearances, it is going to be a down year for the Pac-12, with a balanced group of teams and nobody a clear favorite to win the league championship. Arizona State (25th) has the highest RPI at this point, with Washington (No. 26) and Colorado (32). Perennial contenders Arizona (54) and UCLA (59) follow. Stanford (86), Oregon (109) and Oregon State (111) trail.
The Sun Devils (20th) are the only Pac-12 team ranked in the Associated Press top 25.
The Beavers could be good enough to make a run at their second NCAA Tournament bid under Tinkle. They have a long way to go, though, before reaching that goal.
• There were several common denominators in the losses to St. Louis and Texas A&M, all at the offensive end.
Oregon State shot poorly in both games — .396 from the field, including 6 for 22 from the 3-point line, against St. Louis and .344 from the field, including 8 for 27 from 3-point range, against Texas A&M. Tinkle believes his players did a "woeful" job setting screens against a bruising Aggie defense.
"We weren't physical enough screening and cutting," Tinkle says. "We got a lot of open looks we didn't knock down, but we didn't help ourselves. Our offense is predicated on a drive-and-kick-out and an inside-out game. We never got into a rhythm."
• Senior guard Stevie Thompson Jr. made 6 of 29 shots from the field, including 3 for 14 from beyond the arc, in the two games.
In his fourth year as a starter, the oldest son of OSU assistant Stevie Thompson Sr. is a team leader and the most veteran perimeter presence on the squad. He is a fine shooter, but when he misfires at that rate, it puts the Beavers at a big disadvantage.
• Alfred Hollins is in an even deeper funk. The athletic sophomore forward is 2 for 14 shooting with 10 turnovers in the last two games. For the season, Hollins is shooting .281 from the field, including 4 for 24 on 3-point attempts.
Against Texas A&M, he seemed out of sorts whenever the ball reached his hands. If Hollins can ever relax and play his game, he'll be a key contributor, because he can rebound, pass and run the court.
• Oregon State has had 36 turnovers in the last two games, 19 against Texas A&M. The Aggies are a good defensive club, but a number of the Beavers' giveaways came on traveling calls and poor passes.
"We were sloppy with the ball," Tinkle says. "We have to take care of it better than we've been doing."
• OSU was decent defensively against Texas A&M, though the Aggies — who came in shooting .250 from 3-point range — made 7 of 17 from beyond the arc. Four of those were corner 3's made in the first half by guards Brandon Mahan and Wendell Mitchell.
"We've done that too often this season," Tinkle says. "We'll let a guy make one or two 3's, and then he'll go get a third or fourth one. We have to be smarter than that. And we have to get better on-ball pressure on the perimeter."
• Tres Tinkle scored 32 points in the two games, but he struggled with his shot, especially from the 3-point line, where he was a combined 3 for 14. He was 1 for 8 against Texas A&M, which probably led to a costly decision late in the game.
Oregon State trailed 66-63 when Tinkle came up with a loose ball in frontcourt with 14 seconds left. The junior forward was open for a moment at the 3-point line, but instead chose to drive to the basket, where he missed a shot with nine seconds to go. He eventually got fouled after an offensive rebound with four seconds remaining. There was too little left on the clock at that point for the Beavers to win.
Tinkle should have taken the quick 3 after the turnover. A make there and it's a whole new ballgame. Even if he had scored on the 2-point attempt, the odds were against the Beavers having enough time left to win.
• Tres Tinkle, incidentally, is shooting .667 from the free-throw line. He came into the season with a .787 career mark, including .840 last season. The 6-8 southpaw is an excellent shooter who should be at least an 80 percent foul shooter.
• There were some positive signs in Saturday's loss.
Sophomore guard Ethan Thompson continued to sparkle offensively, scoring 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting, including 3 of 6 from deep. The younger Thompson brother, who is averaging 13.9 points per game, has been the Beavers' most consistent shooter.
Freshman point guard Antoine Vernon continued with his promising play, contributing six points and two assists in 12 minutes. The 6-foot Hamilton, Ontario, native has an excellent shooting touch — he is 5 for 5 on 3-point attempts this season — and has been productive enough to warrant more playing time moving forward.
Center Kylor Kelley blocked four shots — I thought he should have been credited with five or six — and grabbed nine rebounds in 25 minutes. The junior transfer from Lane CC, who ranks third nationally with 3.4 blocks per game, is an outstanding defender with a soft shooting touch around the basket. But he got two early fouls against the Aggies, which limited his playing time. Kelley simply can't get into foul trouble, especially until senior center Gligorije Rakocevic returns to active duty.
• Rakocevic, who has missed the last three games due to a stress fracture of a foot, is already doing some jogging and shooting. Coach Tinkle is hopeful the 6-11 senior will be cleared for duty for Oregon State's Pac-12 opener against Oregon at Matthew Knight Arena on Jan. 5. When he returns, Rakocevic is likely to split duty with Kelly in the post.
Coach Tinkle also plans to use them together as "twin towers" at times. That would allow Tres Tinkle to slide down from power forward to small forward, his more natural position.
"'Big G' is a signal cop for us on defense, calling out baseline runners to his teammates, and he was playing well when he got hurt," Coach Tinkle says. "It will be great to get him back."
• Coach Tinkle pointed out after Saturday's game that the Beavers had only two players with as much as two seasons of experience playing against the Aggies — Tres Tinkle and Stevie Thompson.
"We're still young, and the guys are learning what they have to do," the coach said.
Texas A&M, however, was starting four sophomores and a graduate senior in his first season with the Aggie program. Youth and inexperience can't be an excuse, especially in this era of college basketball, where the great players are usually one-and-done.
• Oregon State has three more games before the first Civil War meeting. All will be at home, including Kent State on Dec. 21 and Central Connecticut State on Dec. 29. If the Beavers run the table in those games to enter conference play 9-3, they'll still be in strong position to vie for postseason play.
"This team has some really good potential," Coach Tinkle says. "Talent without production, however, is just potential. But I believe in this group. If we can get some momentum going the rest of the month, I think we'll make some noise (in Pac-12 play)."