A loss to Wyoming was a wake-up call, leading to a rallying moment and a greater desire to not let the season head in the same direction as last year.
A win against Long Beach State a few days later saw defensive improvements and better focus on the game plan.
Now, with three games in four days on the road, the Oregon State men’s basketball team will again test its progress early in the season.
The Beavers (2-1) play St. John’s (4-0) on Thursday in the opening round of the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando.
“Overall, I think we learned we got better but there are still a lot of things we can keep on practicing on,” junior forward Tres Tinkle said of last Saturday’s 89-81 home win against Long Beach State.
Junior post Drew Eubanks said the victory was an important one. He believed some of the younger players may have been affected by their first collegiate loss.
He said it was good to taste winning again, given how little the Beavers did that during a 2016-17 campaign that went sideways after Tinkle was lost for the season six games in with a broken wrist.
Three games in, the team continues to work on chemistry, rotations and cohesion on both sides of the court.
“It’s still early. We’re still trying to find ourselves,” Eubanks said.
Eubanks had a big game — 26 points and 11 rebounds — against the undersized 49ers. He’s averaging 19.7 points and 6.7 boards and shooting 88.5 percent (23 for 26) at the foul line.
With the Beavers short on big men, health and production from the 6-10 Eubanks will be a considerable factor if the team is to turn the corner this season.
“I’m trying to be as consistent as possible,” he said. “Trying to get to the line as many times as I can. Just make sure I make free throws when I get there too.”
Associate head coach Kerry Rupp said the team was better defensively against Long Beach State at closing gaps and keeping ball handlers in front of them.
But the progress can’t stop there.
The Beavers need to defend the 3-point shot better (they’ve allowed opponents to shoot 41.4 percent); take away the paint; and make teams beat them with difficult shots inside the arc, Rupp said.
OSU will get a good test from St. John’s, an attacking team on both ends that likes to find open outside shooters. In four games, the Red Storm have attempted 90 3-pointers (making 30), recorded 38 steals and blocked 22 shots.
Perimeter defense and scoring are expected to be keys to a Thursday win.
Sophomore guard JaQuori McLaughlin said finishing games is also big. The Beavers almost found out the hard way against Long Beach, as the 49ers closed a double-digit gap in the final minutes before the Beavers held on.
“Playing a whole game, not relaxing as a team when we get up by eight or 10,” McLaughlin said of a needed area of improvement. “Build more of a lead after that and not let a team get closer in on us.”
McLaughlin was among those the coaching staff pulled aside for private meetings last week to define roles.
The point guard is being asked to be a better leader and communicator as well as be aggressive to the basket, as he was in the team’s summer trip to Spain.
“My teammates believe in me, coaches believe in me, so just getting back to that,” McLaughlin said.
The AdvoCare Invitational is an eight-team bracket tournament.
Oregon State plays either Missouri or Long Beach State on Friday. Sunday’s potential opponents — Central Florida, Nebraska, No. 23 West Virginia and Marist — are all on the other side of the bracket.
“When you go into a tournament and play three games in four days, you have a chance to really find out what you’re about, find out how tough we are,” Rupp said.