Oregon State senior center Gligorije Rakocevic is expected back for Saturday’s home game against Central Connecticut in the Beavers’ final tuneup for the Pac-12 men’s basketball schedule.
That could go a long way toward helping the team shore up some areas on both ends of the floor where Rakocevic’s absence has been evident.
Rakocevic, who has missed the past five games and a little more than a month with a stress fracture in his left foot, is credited with his communication on the backline of OSU’s zone defense and for being an offensive presence that opens up outside shooting for his teammates.
“We’ve given (up) an inordinate amount of 3s,” coach Wayne Tinkle said. “Typically we’re much better, man and zone, guarding the 3-point line than we have in those five games.”
With Rakocevic off the floor, the Beavers (7-4) have allowed 44.4 percent from 3-point range after giving up 29.5 in the six games that the big man played in November.
Junior Kylor Kelley and freshman Warren Washington have seen their playing time increase with Rakocevic out. They have skill and potential, but still aren’t used to communicating what they see on the defensive end.
“I just think G’s experience and his maturity really help the guards because he knows the stuff, he knows what we’re asking for,” Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle said. “I think when he comes back, all that will come back full circle.”
Rakocevic averaged 8.2 points while shooting 67.7 percent from the field along with 4.2 rebounds in the season’s first six games.
Coach Tinkle said he believes the more focus put on defensive improvement, the more the players will be able to relax offensively, notably in shooting from the outside.
Outside of the Dec. 1 home win against Missouri State, in which the Beavers made a single-game school-record 16 3-pointers (on 28 attempts), OSU is shooting 29.4 percent (59 of 201) from beyond the arc. Coincidentally, the Beavers are also at 29.4 percent (25 of 85) in the four games since Missouri State.
“I think a big part of it is we don’t have an inside threat offensively,” coach Tinkle said. “Our young bigs just aren’t strong enough yet to post and seal deep, to pose a threat to where now (the defenders) have to help collapse a little bit and we get a little more comfortable shots that we make a more consistently.”
Added OSU’s Alfred Hollins: “Shots are going to fall, so we can’t focus on that. Just put ‘em up and take good ones. I think that’s our main focus, that and the defensive end.”
Senior guard Stevie Thompson is in a particularly difficult shooting funk.
He’s 14 of 58 overall and 4 of 24 on 3-pointers in the past four games.
Oregon State’s career 3-point leader, Thompson was a career 37.2 percent shooter from long range entering the season, with marks of 38.1 and 37.9 the past two seasons. He’s 22 of 66 (33.3) this year.
Thompson shot 1 of 16 in the Beavers’ last game, a 66-63 home loss to Kent State, and couldn’t get the potential game-tying 3-pointer to fall in the closing seconds.
Coach Tinkle says a focus on taking on-balanced shots, from inside and outside the arc, early in games will produce more makes and avoid additional pressure later in games.
“He’s one guy in particular that if we put a little more focus on the defensive end, we’ll be able to free our minds up offensively,” the coach said. “Then we’ve got to get guys like Zach Reichle, who’s a proven shooter, more comfortable on the defensive end, so that we can leave him out there. We need to play him more.”
Reichle has scored 22 points in 88 minutes in the past five games, though a career-high 13 points and season-high 27 minutes came in one contest, in a home victory versus Pepperdine.
Blue Devils up next
Central Connecticut (6-6) enters Gill Coliseum coming off a 93-90 double-overtime home win at Maine last Saturday. Tyler Kohl had 33 points, including five 3-pointers. Ian Krishnan added 17 points and Jamir Coleman 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Blue Devils returned three of their top five scorers, including the leader Kohl, from a 2017-18 team that went 14-18 overall and 7-11 in the Northeastern Conference. They were picked to finish sixth in the 10-team league this year.
Kohl, a senior wing, is averaging 19.3 points on 48.1 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.4 steals. Joe Hugley, a junior forward, adds 11.3 points and five rebounds.
The Blue Devils are coached by 15-year NBA veteran Donyell Marshall, in his third as head coach of the program. He was previously an assistant coach at George Washington, Rice and Buffalo, as well as the NBA G League's Maine Red Claws.
Marshall's son, Donyell Marshall Jr., is a junior forward for Central Connecticut.