The depth that Wayne Tinkle and his Oregon State men’s basketball staff have been pursuing and developing since the arrival of the team’s newcomers this past summer produced dividends Thursday night.
Junior college transfer Kylor Kelley had another solid game, particularly on defense, in the Beavers’ 79-74 overtime home win against USC to get OSU to 10-4 overall and 2-0 in Pac-12 play.
A pair of freshmen, forward Warren Washington and guard Antoine Vernon, made significant contributions as well.
The play of all of the above has become more important with a smaller roster of scholarship players after the departure of freshman center Jack Wilson and freshman guard Jordan Campbell from the program in the past month.
The stakes were raised even higher Thursday with leading scorer Tres Tinkle sitting out with an injured ankle.
Washington had season highs of seven points and seven rebounds while playing a season-best 26-plus minutes. Down the stretch, he was also put in charge of guarding Bennie Boatwright, the Trojans’ leading scorer.
Washington’s playing time was limited in the team’s first 10 games, with last week’s game at Oregon marking the second time he didn’t play at all. But he stuck with it.
“When he came back from Christmas break, he had a fresh mind, fresh outlook and he’s been busting his tail,” coach Tinkle said after Thursday’s game. “We said in the locker room, ‘he didn’t step up tonight, he stepped up when he came back after break and earned it every day in practice.’”
The coach said he’s been saying that it was only a matter of time before the 6-foot-11 Washington would be asked to play important minutes “and boy, did he respond.”
Vernon has as well.
He played just two minutes against St. Louis but had a talk with coach Tinkle about ways to spend more time on the floor. Since then, Vernon has been in the practice gym early mornings and late nights.
He played 15-plus minutes Thursday, with five points, three assists and no turnovers. Vernon was 2 of 2 at the free-throw line for the fourth straight game and has just one turnover in 48 minutes in that stretch.
It was the second straight contest in which Vernon had an important role. In a win at Oregon five days earlier, he helped OSU handle the Ducks’ full-court press and made two foul shots in the final minute.
“He came back and went to work. He’s earned the position he’s in right now,” the coach said.
“And some guys don’t understand it, they don’t get it. They want it now. If they don’t get it now then they find something else. Nothing against that.
“What we talked about is tightening up our fox hole and we know who’s got each other’s backs. These guys are living proof, if you’re patient and you stay positive, you stick with it, you will get your turn. Then you’ll have success for keeping a positive mind.”
OSU’s Gligorije Rakocevic came off the bench for the second consecutive game in his return after missing five games with a stress fracture in his left foot. The senior center had 10 points and three rebounds in 19 minutes.
“For me, and for the rest of the bench guys, showing what we have, it just gives us more self-confidence because maybe earlier in the year we maybe didn’t know if we belonged or not,” Vernon said. “For these last two games, I feel like I belong.”
Kelley had the defensive assignment of guarding Nick Rakocevic, the reigning conference player of the year after averaging 25 points and nine rebounds in wins against California and Stanford.
Kelley and the Beavers held Rakocevic to six points on 2-of-11 shooting.
Kelley’s seven blocks give him 58 for the season, 15 off Eric Moreland’s single-season school record set in the 2012-13 campaign. He also had five points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal.
“I just saw the look in some of their eyes trying to go to the rim on big Kylor,” coach Tinkle said. “They didn’t know if they lost a horse or found a rope at times. It was due to his presence there.”
With USC up two in the final minute of regulation, Kelley blocked Rakocevic at the rim and OSU’s Ethan Thompson got the rebound. Thompson scored off an offensive rebound to send the game to overtime.
Kelley had four rebounds and a block in the extra period.
Coach Tinkle said he appreciates the 7-footer handling criticism, as he did regarding his play on the offensive end Thursday.
Tinkle said he can get after Kelley hard, “and he’s not going to go south on you. He’s going to stay locked in, he’s going to challenge himself and he’s going to respond.”
Tres Tinkle’s return
Tres Tinkle, injured against Oregon, “probably would have been 70 percent at best (Thursday), but it would have meant he was 60 percent on Sunday” against UCLA, coach Tinkle said, adding that he expects his son to play against the Bruins.
“We can’t make a decision for sure,” he said. “But I’m banking on him playing until I hear something else. But we’ll see.”