Beavers stand, deliver on preseason potential
When Oregon State squares off with Oklahoma at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the nightcap of the Phil Knight Invitational at Moda Center, it will be another litmus test in the Beavers' bid to move up on the college basketball scene.
OSU passed its first exam with a 80-74 victory over Iowa State on Saturday at Gill Coliseum. A year ago, the Cyclones went 23-12, won the Big 12 post-season tournament — beating Kansas in the championship game — and reached the NCAA Tournament.
Oklahoma is 2-0 this season after wins over Texas-San Antonio and Minnesota. The Sooners were 20-14 last season, beating Mississippi in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual NCAA champion Virginia 63-51 in the second round.
"They're clearly better than Iowa State," said Wayne Tinkle, beginning his sixth season at the OSU helm.
The Cyclones weren't bad, led by 6-5 sophomore Tyrese Halliburton, a member of USA Basketball's gold medalist Men's U19 World Cup team last summer. Haliburton was named to the All-Star Five for the tournament in Crete, Greece.
With Ethan Thompson shadowing him all over the court, Halliburton went scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting in the first half Saturday. He got more aggressive in the second half, scoring all of his 15 points to go with 12 assists for the game.
"Ethan has the potential to be an all-league defender," Tinkle said of his 6-5 junior, the son of OSU assistant coach Stevie Thompson Sr. "It's tough when you ask one of your best offensive players to be the best defensive player, but he did a good job on Halliburton, especially in the first half."
Thompson had nine points, seven assists and a pair of steals against Iowa State. Kylor Kelley, OSU's 7-foot senior center, contributed 15 points, five rebounds and three blocks.
The straw that stirs the drink for the Beavers, though, is Tres Tinkle, Wayne's son. The 6-7 senior forward collected 27 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots against Iowa State. Tinkle also knocked down back-to-back 3's with the game on the line in the final two minutes to quell the Cyclones' comeback bid.
"They're a good team," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said of the Beavers, "and Tinkle is a tremendous player. He willed them to victory today. Kelley gives them a presence to change some shots around the rim, and I like Thompson. They bring a lot of guys back off a team that won (18) games last year. I can see them having a good year."
Through his first five years at Oregon State, Coach Tinkle had gone 0-5 against the likes of Power Five opponents Oklahoma State, Auburn, Kansas, Texas A&M and Missouri in preseason affairs. This season, there are fewer cupcakes on the preseason schedule and instead the likes of Iowa State and Oklahoma, along with dates at Wyoming on Saturday and at Texas A&M on Dec. 21.
The intent is twofold; to prepare the Beavers for the Pac-12 schedule, which begins Jan. 2 at Utah, and to help produce a portfolio that will impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee at season's end. The triumph over Iowa State was a good first step.
"It's gotta rank right up there" with any nonconference win during the Tinkle era, the OSU coach said. "We started great, dug ourselves a hole and then were able to answer down the stretch. In years past, maybe we crumbled in the last few minutes. We didn't (against the Cyclones), which I think is a sign of our maturity."
The game likely would have been lost, however, without the junior Tinkle, who averaged 26 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 blocks in wins over Cal State Northridge and Iowa State. The southpaw is shooting .606 from the field and .692 (9 for 13) from 3-point range. He has been more active defensively, and he looks more comfortable at the 3-point line, from where he brought a career .324 percentage into this season.
"The fact that he's a fifth-year senior, he has a peace and a calm to him," his father said. "And he's excited to be with the teammates he has out there. We have other playmakers who can get guys higher-percentage looks. It's put him in a position where he is playing more freely and with more confidence."
One of those teammates is Zach Reichle, the 6-5 junior from Wilsonville who was underwhelming during his first two seasons at OSU. Reichle has averaged 12.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting .533 from the field, including 4 for 7 from 3-point range, in the two games.
"Zach is playing the best basketball he has played for us," Tres Tinkle said. "He always gives us effort. When he's hitting shots, that makes it easier for everybody. And he plays so hard.
"I love this group. We have depth. We have guys who can score, rebound, defend. It's a different look than we've had in years past."
Coach Tinkle has settled on a starting five that includes his son, Kelley, Thompson and Reichle. The fifth starter has been 6-6 junior Alfred Hollins, but he'll get a challenge for his spot, perhaps from 6-5 JC transfer Sean Miller-Moore.
Of the newcomers, 6-3 freshman shooting guard Jarod Lucas — who averaged 39.6 points per game as a senior at Los Altos High in Hacienda Heights, California — has seen the most playing time.
"Jarod understands our offense, he plays his tail off defensively and he's a shot-maker," Coach Tinkle said. "But I keep telling our other new guys, stay positive and ready. We have a lot of weapons, and they're all going to get their chances."
For now, Thompson — a natural shooting guard — is playing mostly the point. Tinkle would love for either or both of the Beavers' natural points — 6-foot sophomore Antoine Vernon and 6-3 freshman Gianni Hunt — to play well enough to earn major minutes, allowing Thompson to play the two-spot.
"If that happens down the road, we can let Ethan play off the ball and utilize his strengths there," the OSU coach said. "For now, we have to play him at the point."
The Beavers sank 12 of 21 3-point shots against Iowa State and are .463 from beyond the arc this season after shooting only .321 last season.
"We don't want to get carried away with it, but this year, we have more weapons on the perimeter," Coach Tinkle said. "(Opponents) can't guard all of them if we execute our stuff."
Oklahoma brings three returning starters — 6-9 junior forward Brady Manek, 6-7 senior forward Kristian Doolittle and 6-5 sophomore guard Jamal Bienemy — along with Austin Reaves, a 6-5 junior transfer from Wichita State; Alondes Williams, a 6-5 JC transfer, and 6-1 freshman guard De'Vion Harmon. Doolittle was honored as the Big 12's Most Improved Player last season.
The Sooners are coached by veteran Lon Kruger, who is in his 33rd year as a college head coach and was head coach of the Atlanta Hawks for three years. Kruger, 67, is in his ninth season at Oklahoma.
"They're pretty good," Coach Tinkle said. "Harmon is a really good freshman. They have shooters. They have athletes. They're tough. It will be a hell of a challenge."
The OSU-OU game will be second of a twinbill, with Oregon and Memphis matching up in the 6 p.m. opener. The PKI doubleheader will be televised on ESPN2, with Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas on the call.
"I love going up there and playing in front of so many people who support us in the Portland area," Coach Tinkle said. "It's a great experience for our guys, to play in the Moda Center and where the Blazers play on an ESPN package. It's always good for recruiting, and it's an exciting deal for all of us to be a part of the PKI."
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