For Kendal Manuel, and Oregon State as a team, it starts at the defensive end.
Manuel has struggled to get back to the level he was at last season, and the Beavers have been intent on getting to the bottom of it.
OSU coaches had a talk with the sophomore guard last week in an attempt to get the best out of Manuel, whom Wayne Tinkle believes was being held back by his own belief that he had to play mistake-free basketball.
Tinkle said he stressed to Manuel that he was one of the team’s best perimeter defenders last season and that he hoped to help the Billings, Montana, product return to that level.
“That’s something I wanted to take personally because it’s man on man pretty much on defense,” Manuel said earlier this week. “I wanted to buy in and provide that spark for us defensively because I know if I play hard defense it will make other guys follow and want to be just as engaged and get everybody going.”
Manuel responded Tuesday against Jacksonville State with a breakout game on both ends. He had a season-high 10 points — including two 3-pointers — and was credited with solid defense in a 70-69 win against potentially OSU’s best opponent to date.
With a roster short on Division I-ready players, Manuel had a major role last season as a redshirt freshman. He averaged 7.8 points and 28.8 minutes while starting 25 of 32 games as the Beavers went 5-27.
His role and playing time this year have diminished because of the team’s added depth. He’s averaged 12.3 minutes in nine games so far.
Tinkle believed Manuel’s frustration on offense this season — he had seven combined points in the previous six games — was carrying over to the defensive end.
“So let’s really buy into guarding, rebounding and then just let it come to you naturally on offense because that’s not where we’re worried,” the coach recalls of the conversation. “He didn’t play perfect (versus Jacksonville State), but because he was playing hard and a little more relaxed he did some really good things for us.”
Manuel was the team’s first guard off the bench and responded with five first-half points and a rebound. He had five straight points on a layin and 3-pointer during a stretch late in the half in which Jacksonville State threatened to break the game open after leading by seven. He scored five more in the second half and played 20 total minutes.
Manuel was able to bury a previous tentative nature while putting a focus on defense and letting the offense come naturally.
“That was big. He came in and helped us a lot, scoring and on the defensive end as well. He provided sparks on both sides,” freshman guard Ethan Thompson said. “We definitely needed that and we’re going to need it throughout the rest of the season as well.”
Sophomore forward Tres Tinkle, a close friend of Manuel, says it will mean a lot if the Beavers can get more contributions from Manuel like they did Tuesday.
He said the team knows Manuel can shoot the ball well and whatever he brings adds to the Beavers’ depth.
“He’s a team player. He’s going to do whatever he can to help win,” Tres Tinkle said. “He sticks to the script. He’s come back every single day for more. It’s going to pay off for him and that’s what he’s done. There’s been times where he was frustrated but he’s come back and battled and he’s going to be rewarded.”
Manuel says it hasn’t been difficult adjusting to a different and lesser on-court role.
Coach Tinkle has encouraged him to stay engaged while on the bench and be ready to contribute when his name is called.
“It’s just the whole idea of buying in,” Manuel said. “We have a lot better players this year, and you always want that because you definitely don’t want to feel like last year. Whatever you’ve got to do individually, as a team, whatever it is to try to help this team win, that’s what we’re going to do.”