Central Connecticut provided the perfect get-well opportunity for Oregon State on Saturday as it looked to improve in several areas heading into its Pac-12 men’s basketball opener at Oregon seven days later.
Behind strong defense and five players in double figures, the Beavers made quick work of the visiting Blue Devils, using a 31-2 first-half run to pull away for an 80-59 win at Gill Coliseum.
Getting its defense back to the high level it expected and has historically played under coach Wayne Tinkle was a primary focus for Oregon State.
The Beavers (8-4) feel as those they achieved that, and now the challenge is to continue that heading into conference play.
“Our intensity and focus in getting to spots and really the purpose we were playing with is something we thought this team would be capable of once we got everybody settled in to how we do things,” said Tinkle, whose team had lost three of four games.
Central Connecticut (6-7) shot 21 of 64 (32.8 percent) from the floor. Guards Tyler Kohl and Ian Krishnan, the Blue Devils’ top two scorers on the season, had a combined 10 points on 4-of-24 shooting.
Tres Tinkle, the coach’s son, led the way in the scoring column for OSU with 20 points, along with eight rebounds and three assists.
Teammate Stevie Thompson, getting back on track offensively after a difficult stretch, added 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting and four assists; Kylor Kelley had a third straight game in double figures with 14 to go with eight rebounds and four blocks.
Ethan Thompson chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds; and Zach Reichle turned his focus on defense, which helped him to 10 points and five rebounds.
“Every game, come out with that same defensive intensity,” said Reichle, a reserve sophomore guard. “We can control how hard we play on D, and some nights shots won’t be going in. But we know we can play D, so we’ve just got to hang our hat on that.”
In that definitive 31-2 stretch that covered more than 10 minutes, Oregon State went from trailing by three to leading 36-10 on Stevie Thompson’s lob to Kelley for a dunk, the third of three alley-oops to the big man in the first half.
Ethan Thompson had the first five points of the run on a layin and a 3-pointer. His brother, Stevie Thompson, added six straight later on with three shots close to the basket.
Central Connecticut, coached by 15-year NBA veteran Donyell Marshall, went eight-plus minutes without a field goal and missed 14 straight shots during the stretch. OSU made 9 of 10 shots at one point.
Tres Tinkle said his team wanted to head into Pac-12 play “on the right note” while creating some momentum. The talk during three days of practice after returning from a holiday break centered around defense.
“We got out in transition. That’s where we’re at our best,” he said. “So in practice we really made it the focal point to go hard, pressure the ball, and I think that’s what we did in the first half and we got a big lead.”
Oregon State led 50-21 at halftime. The home team led by 30 early in the second half, and the visitors got no closer than 21 from there.
The Beavers won the rebounds 47-28. They had just five steals, but they forced the Blue Devils into many contested shots.
Oregon State shored up its 3-point defense after allowing opponents to shoot 44.4 percent (44 of 99) the past five games. Central Connecticut finished 3 of 13 (23.1) after making its first two deep balls.
Kohl and Krishan were a combined 1 of 7 on 3s as the Beavers forced the Blue Devils to try to beat them from inside the arc.
“I thought the effort was there to do that,” coach Tinkle said of limiting the opposition’s top players. “That’s something our teams have done year after year after year after year. We haven’t been doing that the last four or five games, so that was good to see.”
One area the Beavers are still working to improve on is their own 3-point shooting. They were 5 of 19 (26.3 percent), their fourth game in the past five and eighth time this season they’ve been under 30 percent.
The contest saw the return of OSU senior center Gligorije Rakocevic, who sat out the past five games and more than a month with a stress fracture in his left foot.
He started the first six games of the season but came off the bench Saturday, collecting one rebound and a block in eight minutes while missing the only shot he took. Coach Tinkle said he expects Rakocevic’s role to increase as he gets back into shape.
The coach noted that the team is now 6-1 with the big man available and 2-3 without.
“And maybe there were some other things that went into it. But we miss his presence, we miss his leadership, we miss his voice,” Tinkle said. “I thought that was a huge boost and obviously we’re thrilled to have him back.”
True freshman center Jack Wilson has left the program, the school announced Saturday morning.
Wilson played a combined 20 minutes in seven games, with no points and one rebound. He sat out the previous contest, against Kent State, with a back injury.
True freshman guard Jordan Campbell left the program earlier this month due to “family issues” after playing in six of the first seven games of the season. He averaged 2.0 points in 3.5 minutes.