Clinging to a six-point lead and fresh off a turnover with 37 seconds to play, Oregon State needed someone to step up against New Mexico State.
On this night, it was Ahmad Starks.
Who else? Starks had singlehandedly sparked a run in the first half to help the Beavers build an 11-point lead at the half.
He hit big 3s, driving layups and had the time to grab five rebounds, dish five assists and come up with four steals.
The Aggies missed, Starks snagged his final rebound and was fouled. He hit both, then added another to clinch a 71-62 win in the 2K Sports Classic Corvallis Regional game before 3,368 fans in Gill Coliseum.
Starks finished with a career-high 33 points.
The Beavers needed the performance, particularly with Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland struggling for most of the game.
“Just absolutely spectacular,” OSU coach Craig Robinson said. “When we needed somebody to put the team on their shoulders and shoulder the offensive burden.
“We had three of our really good guys — Roberto, Eric and Devon — having off nights and to be able to beat a team like this with guys having that kind of night, I’m so happy with the way we hung in there.”
Starks said he was hitting all his shots during warmups and it reminded him of a high school game in which he hit just about everything until he cooled off late.
He was determined not to let the same thing happen on Sunday. He focused on not rushing his jump shots and put the pressure on the Aggies.
“Just kept attacking, kept attacking,” Starks said. “We were down early so I just felt that I just wanted to do something to get us that lead and we were able to keep it.”
Surviving a team like New Mexico State is no small feat.
The Aggies are big, tough and talented. They’re used to winning 20-plus games a season and making postseason appearances.
They went 26-10 last year and lost to Indiana in the NCAA tournament.
“We needed a game like this to see how we would fare against them,” Robinson said. “I thought that after the first five or six minutes, we really woke up and started playing well.”
NMSU also gave OSU a big dose of physical play.
The Aggies outrebounded the Beavers 46-33, 17-7 on the offensive boards.
The Beavers were called for 23 fouls and NMSU 17.
“It was getting pretty physical, but that’s how we like to play,” OSU forward Joe Burton said. “We’re going to play a lot of teams like that and in order to do stuff this year we have to be just like them. Get down and dirty and get down to business. Take no prisoners.”
Burton was the only other OSU player in double figures with 13 points.
Starks also came up big on the defensive end. He harassed the NMSU guards throughout the game.
He capped the first-half push by following up a 3-pointer with a steal and breakaway score.
During Pac-12 media day, Robinson told those wondering who was going to step in for Jared Cunningham on the defensive end that Starks would be a player to watch.
“So this isn’t a surprise to anybody who’s been at practice every day and kind of knows how he’s been doing. Watching him guard those guards didn’t surprise me at all,” Robinson said. “What surprised me was that he was extremely vocal for the quiet leader that we’ve come to know and we need him to be that kind of vocal leader.”
Oregon State 71, New Mexico State 62
NEW MEXICO ST. (0-1) — Sy 4-13 3-5 12, Watson 5-11 4-7 14, Nephawe 2-5 5-8 9, Ross-Miller 1-5 0-0 2, Mullings 4-10 6-7 14, Bhullar 0-1 1-4 1, Aronis 0-2 0-0 0, de Rouen 2-7 0-0 4, Dixon 3-4 0-1 6. Totals 21-58 19-32 62.
OREGON ST. (2-0) — Burton 6-13 1-1 13, Brandt 3-8 0-0 8, Starks 11-21 9-12 33, Moreland 2-5 0-0 4, Nelson 3-10 3-4 9, Barton 0-0 0-0 0, Reid 0-1 4-4 4, Collier 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 17-21 71.
Halftime—Oregon St. 41-30. 3-Point Goals—New Mexico St. 1-11 (Sy 1-6, Aronis 0-1, Watson 0-1, de Rouen 0-3), Oregon St. 4-12 (Brandt 2-3, Starks 2-7, Nelson 0-2). Fouled Out—Collier. Rebounds—New Mexico St. 46 (Sy 9), Oregon St. 33 (Brandt, Moreland 6). Assists—New Mexico St. 5 (Watson 3), Oregon St. 14 (Brandt, Starks 5). Total Fouls—New Mexico St. 17, Oregon St. 23. Technical—New Mexico St. Bench. A—3,368.