Oregon State assistant coach Gregg Gottlieb gave a piece of advice about being a shot-blocker that has stuck with Drew Eubanks.
“Try to be an implied threat,” the Beavers’ junior big man recalled this week. “Make them think you’re going to go up for it because that will change their mindset and make them hesitate a little bit.”
For Eubanks, that’s meant trying to remember to stay close to the basket, an emphasis coach Wayne Tinkle has made a priority.
Eubanks has developed into one of Pac-12 men’s basketball’s top shot blockers, and in turn it’s changed the way opponents attack the basket.
He enters Thursday’s game at Washington third in Pac-12 games at 2.1 per contest and fourth in the conference for the season at 1.9.
Tinkle has brought up Eubanks’ improved rim protection several times in recent weeks.
“He’s much more disciplined to basket hanging, where in the past he wants to help so much that he was leaving the basket and trying to help out and away in space,” the coach said. “We don’t want him to do that. We want him to be the last line of defense at the rim. Hopefully the guards don’t let guys get in there on a clean drive.”
Intimidation has played a part.
Knowing what Eubanks is capable of doing to their shots, opposing players have to decide whether they will go at him or pass to a teammate. That overpassing has sometimes led to turnovers and transition points for the Beavers (14-14, 6-10 Pac-12).
“When he’s focused to that detail, man, he’s one of the best in our league as far as protecting the hoop,” Tinkle said.
Eubanks began to see his shot-blocking skills improve last season, when he averaged 2.2 swats per game. Seven times he had four blocks or more. He tied former teammate Gary Payton II’s single-game school record of seven in the 2016-17 opener against Prairie View A&M.
Eubanks said he believes blocking shots is instinctual, knowing when and when not to jump and go for the ball.
“In high school I just went after everything,” said Eubanks, who didn’t play competitive basketball until high school. “You can’t do that at this level because people are too good. It’s pick and choose. Then obviously you get better and you learn from playing more games.”
A career total of 161 blocks put Eubanks put him 11 behind Scott Haskin (1989-93) in second and 23 back of leader Eric Moreland (2011-14) on the school’s all-time list. His 1.75 career average trails Moreland (2.07) and Nick DeWitz (2005-06, 2.06). He needs four blocks in two games this week to top Moreland as OSU’s single-season conference record of 37.
Eubanks has joined Haskin as the only players in program history with 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 150 blocks.
Staying around the rim has helped Eubanks add to his rebounding totals, sometimes in bunches. He’s tied for seventh in Pac-12 games with a 7.1 average.
Eubanks has four double-double this season, including two consecutive games three weeks ago when the Beavers swept the Washington schools at Gill Coliseum.
There are few big Pac-12 men Eubanks guards that can step out and hit from the perimeter.
“So we just tell him to stay at the rim and protect the hoop because he’s so athletic and such a presence there,” teammate Tres Tinkle said. “He alters so many shots and he blocks shots and we need his rebounding abilities.”
Offensively, his shooting numbers have remained high also because he’s stayed close to the basket.
Eubanks is third in the conference in field goal percentage overall (62.7) and fifth in Pac-12 games (59.0). He opened the season by shooting 50 percent or better in 11 straight games and hasn’t reached that mark only five times.
He’s also taken better care of the ball. He’s averaging 1.8 turnovers per game this season compared to 3.0 last year.
“Just trying to pick my spots, when to post up,” Eubanks said of his offense. “Guards have done a good job of getting me the ball in good positions where I can score easy, and just relocating off of drives. Trying to get to the front of the rim so they can drop it off.”
Coach Tinkle said, like on the defensive end, it’s important that Eubanks have discipline and remain a few steps from the basket.
“When he stays around the hoop, we’re going to get him high-percentage looks. Dump-offs, guys like Stevie (Thompson) and Tres driving in there and dropping it off for him,” the coach said. “His effort on the boards was the best it’s been. He had five offensive rebounds (in Saturday’s win against Arizona State). Those will add up to high-percentage shots when you’re crashing the glass.”
Eubanks can take and make short jumpers, but his coach says he’s much more effective closer to the rim. Tinkle said Eubanks understands the importance of doing that and what it means for the team.
“He’s such a beast down and around the hoop that we’ve got to keep him there,” the coach said.