Antoine Vernon said he feels good about the progress he’s made, getting playing time when it's given and learning from his veteran teammates.
The Oregon State freshman point guard is coming off a season-high 22 minutes on Monday’s home win against Pepperdine. He’s played double-digit minutes in three of the last four games after reaching that mark once in the first six contests.
“I feel like the experience is kind of growing on me right now because I like where I’m at,” said Vernon, whose team hosts Kent State at noon Friday. “I feel like I can keep getting better each and every day.”
Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle said the most progress the first-year player from Hamilton, Ontario, has made is in getting comfortable with what the team is trying to accomplish on both ends of the court. With that has come confidence.
“I give him a lot of credit because he’s coming in the gym, getting in work, staying positive and working hard in practice,” Tinkle said. “That’s why I think what’s allowed him to make the strides as quickly as he has.”
Vernon has a season-high of six points in two separate games. He’s played in nine of OSU’s 10 games and is averaging 1.7 points and 9.3 minutes. He’s shooting 5 of 11 from the floor (5 of 6 on 3-pointers) with six rebounds and six assists.
Teammate Stevie Thompson has seen Vernon’s progress as well, particularly in being aggressive in making plays with the ball and not just setting up the offense.
“He’s been working on his defense a lot and getting better, moving his feet and trying to play without fouling, like we’ve stressed as a team,” Thompson said.
Vernon has spent time with assistant coach Gregg Gottlieb, particularly in pregame workouts, focusing on halfcourt offensive situations.
“I’m working on coming off ball screens because that’s my bread and butter, where I can find guys and I can get open shots,” Vernon said.
Return of ‘Big G’
Friday’s game will be the fifth straight missed by senior center Gligorije Rakocevic, out with a stress fracture in his left foot.
His hope is that’s the last one that will keep him on the sideline.
Rakocevic’s goal is to return for the Dec. 29 home game against Central Connecticut State, the Beavers’ next contest
Rakocevic, who was expected to have an X-ray Friday morning, did some running and shooting Tuesday for the first time since his injury, which was diagnosed after Oregon State returned from its Nov. 25 road game at Long Beach State.
“It felt great,” he said. “I wasn’t really able to do much (the past month). I was on the bike and I lifted weights every day. But that wasn’t enough. It felt awesome even though I’m tired and a little out of shape.”
Tinkle said Rakocevic will be re-evaluated Dec. 26 after the team takes a short holiday break.
Here come the Golden Flashes
Kent State comes to Gill Coliseum at 8-2 overall and 3-1 on the road after an 83-70 loss at Louisville last Saturday.
The Golden Flashes, who had won six straight games, got 28 points and six rebounds from Jaylin Walker, who was 7 of 10 on 3-pointers. Fellow senior guard Jalen Avery added 11 points and four assists.
Walker, who missed his team’s first five games due to suspension, is averaging 25.2 points while shooting 46.3 percent from the field, and 5.6 rebounds with 25 total 3-pointers in five games.
He had a season-high 36 points against Detroit Mercy and has made at least three 3-pointers in all five games he's played.
Avery averages 14.8 points and 4.2 assists and junior guard CJ Williamson 14.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.
“They’re going to try to really pressure the ball, get in passing lanes,” Tinkle said. “So spacing and screening … screening is one area offensively that we’ve really got to get better. We’re just running by guys and it’s putting a lot of pressure on our guards.”
Last year, Oregon State took a 69-68 defeat at Kent State in Kent, Ohio, in the Beavers’ final nonconference game. OSU’s Tres Tinkle and Stevie Thompson and Kent State’s Walker all had 25 points and Avery 17 in that contest. The Beavers had 19 turnovers, also a concern this season given OSU’s combined 56 turnovers in the past three contests.
The Beavers defeated the Golden Flashes, 69-50, a year earlier at Gill.