Oregon State men’s basketball had boxing on the mind as players and coach Wayne Tinkle addressed last Saturday’s slow start against Washington in a 79-69 defeat and trying to avoid another such performance.
It wasn’t the first time the Beavers have fallen behind early, but they seem determined to be the aggressor in the opening minutes as they head out on the road this week.
“For certain, it was disappointing that we didn’t come out and try to deliver that first blow, in the basketball sense,” Tinkle said of the Washington game Tuesday before his team left town for a Thursday night game at Colorado and Saturday afternoon at Utah. ”It hasn’t been a common theme, so hopefully we can shake that off and we won’t see that again.”
Oregon State (12-7, 4-3) hasn’t had exactly that sort of slow start. But the Beavers haven’t consistently opened with a strong flourish in Pac-12 play either.
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Outside the home win against Washington State last week, OSU’s largest lead through the first eight minutes of its other Pac-12 games is one point, which the Beavers held at Oregon in the conference opener.
OSU was also down eight to USC, tied with UCLA, down one at Arizona State, and down six at Arizona before getting behind by 13 to Washington, all with 12 minutes left in the first half.
The Beavers led Washington State, the conference’s 11th-place team, 23-15 after eight minutes.
“That’s something that Coach emphasizes a lot,” sophomore guard Ethan Thompson said of being the more aggressive team from the outset. “Just coming out and throwing the first punch and not being hit the first time. The games we’ve lost, we’ve seen that we weren’t that person.”
In the three home games in conference, Oregon State improved its scoring margin and led all three by at least five points. In the road games against the Arizona schools to follow, the Beavers trailed by nine at Arizona State and 11 at Arizona.
In the four nonconference losses, OSU had a better scoring margin in the second half than the first. That’s also been the case in four of the past five contests, with the Beavers going 2-3 in that stretch.
Oregon State has been better in the second half, by scoring margin, in 14 of 19 games this season.
Junior forward Tres Tinkle says his team needs to play with more focus and effort and more aggressively early in games.
“We can’t play timid anymore. We’ve got to throw the first punch and keep them coming after that,” he said.
Sophomore guard Zach Reichle emphasized sticking to what’s working. It’s when the Beavers have gotten away from it that’s allowed trouble to arise.
“Obviously when Washington came and jumped on us they kind of set that tone for the rest of the game. We battled but we weren’t able to bounce back,” Reichle said. “The rest of the season, we need to be the aggressor from the start.”
Winning on the road
Coach Tinkle hasn’t talked about his team learning to win on the road as he has in past seasons.
The Beavers won the Pac-12 opener at Oregon and played well in stretches at Arizona State. OSU also won at Long Beach State this season. But no player on the current roster has won more than four conference road games in their time at Oregon State. The Beavers have won two combined in the last three seasons.
“If we’re able to carry our offensive game on the road and we’re able to share the ball and move the ball and things like that, and carry out our defensive intensity on the road, I think this trip will be a big confidence-builder for us for road games if we’re able to do that,” senior guard Stevie Thompson.
Coach Tinkle said the team has been waiting for players beyond the top three scorers — Tres Tinkle and the Thompson brothers — to provide a consistent scoring lift.
A good place to provide that boost would be on the road. The Beavers average 79.8 points and 50.2 percent shooting from the floor at Gill Coliseum and 68.1 points and 43.1 percent in all other games.
Junior forward Kylor Kelley is the only player outside the team’s top three scorers to score in double digits in consecutive games. He did that in three straight nonconference contests at home in December.
Whether it’s starters four and five or the first couple guys off the bench, we need to see more consistency there,” coach Tinkle said. “It’s not always going to be the big three every night. We’ve got to have some other guys step up, for sure.”