Oregon State has plans to play a small lineup at times this season given its wealth at the guard and small forward positions.
Injuries and foul trouble forced the Beavers to go small by necessity in Friday night’s season-opener against Southern Utah and it worked out.
With their tallest players spending most of the game on the bench, OSU made undersized lineups pay off on its way to a 99-82 win at Gill Coliseum.
The Beavers were without center Gligorije Rakocevic (broken nose) and power forward Ben Kone (knee) before Drew Eubanks and Seth Berger were saddled with fouls.
“We’re short-handed. We got in foul trouble. We’re minus a couple bigs,” said coach Wayne Tinkle, who collected career win No. 200. “We talked about this year, it doesn’t matter when we’re short-handed because we’ve got competitors, we’ve got more depth. And if we’ve got to play small, we’re going to outfight, outscrap … so it’s not a surprise to the guys. We’ve practiced that way.”
Berger’s problems developed in the first half and Eubanks' in the second. Both fouled out (Berger in five minutes of playing time), as did teammates Alfred Hollins and JaQuori McLaughlin.
Southern Utah had three players foul out in a game that included 62 personals and 32 free throws for the visiting Thunderbirds in the second half.
Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle picked up where he left off in last year’s injury-shortened season. The redshirt sophomore had 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the floor while making all six foul shots, along with six rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes.
“It felt great being back on the court again. We put in so much work this offseason to make sure we showed people what we’re capable of doing,” he said.
In six games last November before breaking his wrist, Tinkle averaged 20.2 points and 8.3 rebounds. He said practicing with smaller lineups helped his team in a live-game situation “a lot.”
“You get comfortable with it in practice. It’s not a shock,” he said. “We’ve just got to battle. When we’re smaller we know we can push the ball 1 through 5, and defensively we can switch everything.”
Freshman Ethan Thompson was one of four newcomers to get their first time in an OSU uniform, and Thompson filled the stat sheet.
He had 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals. He made four straight foul shots after missing his first three. OSU was 26 of 35 at the line and Southern Utah 32 of 46. The Beavers had 33 fouls, two short of the school single-game record.
“I’m glad I got the first game out of the way, all the nerves away,” Thompson said. “Just got to come back and keep working. Defensively I think I could have communicated better in switching and stuff, being a leader on the floor.”
Eubanks finished with 16 points, including 10 of 11 free throws, and seven rebounds in 27 minutes as the Beavers finished one point short of the first 100-point game in coach Tinkle’s four-season tenure.
Stevie Thompson, Ethan’s brother, added 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“For throwing them out there for the first time in a real game, I thought it was great,” coach Tinkle said of the smaller lineups. “We’ve got to get better defensively. We can’t lose our edge defensively and on the glass, and I thought we did that a little bit.”
Jadon Cohee had 21 points (including 13 of 18 on free throws) for the Thunderbirds of the Big Sky Conference.
A tight game slowed by frequent whistles turned in Oregon State’s favor after about 10 minutes as the Beavers found some offensive rhythm.
Eubanks provided some quality minutes after picking up two fouls, the second on a double-technical called on him and Southern Utah’s Christian Musoko with 10:34 left in the half.
With Eubanks going to the bench earlier for rest, Berger came on in relief and picked up three quick fouls in roughly a minute. That brought back Eubanks, who made four straight foul shots and later converted a three-point play that gave the Beavers a 28-16 lead with 7:21 left.
Tres Tinkle and Ethan Thompson took turns the rest of the half guiding the offense.
Tinkle’s buzzer-beater from 70-plus feet found nothing but net and gave the Beavers a 51-28 lead at the break. Southern Utah was unable to mount a second-half challenge.
Rakocevic missed the game due a broken nose he suffered in Sunday’s practice. He could play in the Beavers’ next contest, a Monday home game versus Wyoming.
Kone had a knee scope in October and is expected to return to full practice later this month.