Oregon State’s defensive numbers of late haven’t been pretty.
Not for a program accustomed to being a successful squad on that end of the floor, allowing four of the previous five opponent to shoot 50 percent or better entering Saturday’s home men's basketball game against California.
The Beavers again weren’t at the top of their game as they hosted a Golden Bears team hungry for its first Pac-12 victory.
But OSU picked it up on the defensive end, held off a late Cal rally and squeezed past the visitors for a 79-71 win at Gill Coliseum, bouncing back from a 23-point home loss to Stanford two days earlier.
“It’s just one game, and we know we’ve got some tough games in front of us, but this is certainly good medicine from that,” Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle said. “When it got to the point where it was moment of truth, we got the stops and made the plays and they didn’t.”
Oregon State’s three four-year players — Gligorije Rakocevic, Stevie Thompson and Tres Tinkle — understand what Cal is going through, having suffered through a five-win season two years ago. The Beavers (15-8, 7-4) knew to expect a fight to the end.
Cal (5-18, 0-11) cut an 11-point, second-half deficit to one at 66-65 on Connor Vanover’s 3-pointer with 5:59 to go.
The Bears got a defensive stop and had the ball with a chance to take their first lead since the closing minutes of the first half.
But Tres Tinkle drew a charge of Justice Sueing, Cal’s leading scorer on the season, and OSU’s Ethan Thompson made two free throws on the other end to reverse the tide.
The Beavers got another stop and Tres Tinkle made a 3-pointer off a Stevie Thompson cross-court pass with 3:51 left to make it 71-65.
Cal later closed within two at 73-71 on a 3-pointer by the 7-foot-3 Vanover with 1:51 remaining, but that was the end of the scoring for the Bears.
Ethan Thompson hit two foul shots on a 1-and-1 opportunity and Kylor Kelley tipped in his own miss with 43 seconds remaining to put the Beavers in control.
The 6-4 Stevie Thompson blocked a Vanover 3-point attempt and Thompson’s brother made two free throws to seal it. Kelley blocked Cal’s Matt Bradley on the game’s final shot to give OSU’s four swats, all in the second half.
“I think coach got us encouraged and ready to go out and get stops,” Ethan Thompson said of his team’s defensive effort. “We haven’t put a run like that together in a minute defensively, getting consecutive stops like that.”
California made just two of its final six field goal attempts to slip below 50 percent for the game and finish at 49.1 (28 of 57). OSU was 25 of 46 (54.3), the Beavers’ best mark in a conference game.
Oregon State held Cal’s Darius McNeill scoreless in the second half after the sophomore guard scored 16 on 7-of-9 shooting in the first 20 minutes.
Defense has been a focus and point of emphasis even more so recently given the struggles. Saturday’s finish could be a step forward.
“Hopefully it just kinds of exudes that confidence and that momentum going forward, what we’re capable of doing,” Tres Tinkle said. “We know what we can do. We need got to get back to that. So hopefully something like fuels our fire to kind of get back to that.”
Stevie Thompson had a game-high 21 points. Ethan Thompson added 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists and Tres Tinkle 19 points, four rebounds and three steals.
McNeill and Sueing had 16 points apiece and Vanover 15 points and four blocks for the Bears, who played their second-closest conference game. Their average margin of defeat in Pac-12 games is now 13.9.
The teams traded baskets for the first four minutes of the second half before Oregon State created a bigger cushion.
Tres Tinkle converted a conventional three-point play before Stevie Thompson hit a 3-pointer and then finished at the rim to help the Beavers push their six-point halftime lead to 11.
The Beavers held off the Bears, keeping an advantage of at least seven, before Vanover led a Cal rally. The big man scored seven points in a 9-1 run, including the 3-pointer that made it a one-point game.
OSU won the rebounding category 29-24, including six from Alfred Hollins. The Beavers were 23 of 28 (82.1 percent) and the Bears 10 of 12 (83.3).
California was competitive in the first half of most of its first 10 Pac-12 games, leading twice and trailing by single digits in five others. So it was no surprise they made a game of it in the first 20 minutes.
Both teams struggled with defensive pressure and trapping, Oregon State in particular with five turnovers in the first eight minutes.
Cal used a 6-0 run to take a 14-11 lead on Juhwan Harris-Dyson’s transition basket off a steal. OSU answered with an 8-2 run that included two free throws and a short jumper from Tres Tinkle and a Tinkle assist on a Rakocevic dunk.
A few more turnovers kept the Beavers from continuing that momentum.
Oregon State put together another 6-0 run late in the half to take the lead.
Ethan Thompson made three straight plays in the final two minutes that sparked the Beavers to 10 straight points to end the half.
The sophomore guard scored on a layin and drew a charge on Bradley on the ensuing possession. He then found Tres Tinkle for a reverse layin to continue the rally.
Stevie Thompson ended the half with a 3-pointer from the wing over Vanover’s extended arms to put the Beavers up 38-32 at the break.
The Bears made just two of their last six shots and finished the half 12 of 25. Oregon State made its last five and was 12 of 20.
The Beavers had 10 turnovers and 14 for the game, and the Bears nine in the half and 12 for the game.