The scene inside Oregon State’s locker room after last Saturday’s win at Washington State included some dancing, following by singing on the bus by a group that could breathe a sigh of relief.
The Beavers were finally able to grab ahold of what had been escaping them for a few weeks. Now they can focus on loftier aspirations.
“Just knowing that we accomplished one of our goals of being a top-four team and getting that bye in the tournament was big for us and something that we wanted,” said Oregon State junior forward Tres Tinkle, named this week to his second straight all-conference first team. “So accomplishing that had us feeling pretty good and energetic.”
OSU (18-12) has the conference’s No. 4 seed in this week’s Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament after beating the Cougars in a victory the Beavers say will give them some momentum and confidence when they play fifth-seeded Colorado (20-11) in a quarterfinal at 2:40 p.m. Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Colorado held off 12th-seeded California 56-51 in Wednesday’s first round.
Oregon State will need three wins in three days to claim the tournament title and the Pac-12’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Senior guard Stevie Thompson said getting the bye-clinching win provided more than just letting him and his teammates they know they avoided the first round and had an extra day to get ready for their quarterfinal matchup.
“I think it was good to get a win under our belts right before the tournament and put that positive feeling inside of us and that confidence moving forward,” he said.
The Beavers struggled down the stretch of the regular season, losing four of five for the first time all season before erasing an early 12-point deficit against Washington State to give the program its best conference record (10-8) and most conference road wins (five) in 29 years.
But that’s far from the first bout of adversity that the team, particularly the veterans, have faced during their time in OSU uniforms.
Seven current roster members were on a team trip to Spain in August 2017 when they saw a tragedy unfold in front of them, just outside their Barcelona hotel.
A man drove a van into pedestrians on La Rambla, a popular tourist area, killing 13 and injuring more than 100 others. OSU assistant coach Gregg Gottlieb’s family narrowly escaped being seriously injured.
The incident occurred on the fourth day of the two-week trip. Coaches and players decided to continue the journey, and the team bonded like never before in coach Wayne Tinkle’s tenure, supporting each other the rest of the way.
On the court, key players have been sidelined.
Tres Tinkle missed the last five games of his freshman year and the NCAA tournament in 2016 with a foot injury. The following season, he played in six games before breaking his wrist and Beavers limped to a 5-27 record with one Pac-12 win.
Thompson, in the same recruiting class as Tinkle, was out for six games that same season with a foot injury. They played just one game together that year.
Senior center Gligorije Rakocevic has missed nine games the past two seasons with injuries.
In addition, seven former teammates have left the program to pursue playing at other schools in the last four years. Four of those players left midseason, including two this year, slowing the growth of team chemistry.
Thompson said all the team has experienced and overcome has been a part of what athletics is about, gathering people for a common goal.
“Those have all been very good moments to help us get closer together,” he said.
Tres Tinkle says the various hurdles have created the best chemistry and unity on the team in his four seasons at Oregon State.
Teammates are playing for each other and happy for one another’s successes.
“Everyone’s head is screwed on the right way. Listening to the coaches, on and off the court,” he said. “It just shows we have the people that have stuck it out through adversity and hard times. And at the end of the day we feel like we’re going to be rewarded in the long haul for that.”