Cunningham, Collier help raise expectations at OSU
CORVALLIS - Career highs were the order of the night for Oregon State Wednesday at Gill Coliseum.
There was Jared Cunningham, careening like a pinball across the court to torch Hofstra for 35 points in an 82-72 victory.
There was Devon Collier, slithering inside like a cobra for 25 points.
And there was Joe Burton, 6-7 and wide enough to block out the sun, 'bounding and dishing to his heart's content from the point forward spot.
Burton scored only five points but collected a game-high 10 rebounds and a career-high 11 assists, borrowing from some of the game's flashiest set-up artists.
'I watch a lot of old films on passing,' said Burton, a junior whose program weight says 280. 'I like Bob Cousy and Magic (Johnson) and Pistol Pete (Maravich). I try to whip it around out there.'
Burton's fanciest pass was a behind-the-back feed to 6-10 freshman Eric Moreland for a first-half dunk. Most of Burton's assists, though, came from out top on entry passes to Collier, the 6-8 sophomore who worked the baseline to sink 9 of 12 shots from the field.
Craig Robinson's calling card has been a Princeton-style offense, which often features 'skillful bigger guys who can take the pressure off the guards,' the fourth-year OSU coach said.
Roeland Schaftenaar filled the role during Robinson's first two seasons in Corvallis, but his successor is unique.
'Unlike most of the guys I've seen play this position, Joe has the IQ of a point guard,' Robinson said, 'and he thinks like a point guard. He can see steps ahead in the game of basketball.
'Joe can make all the passes. I haven't seen a Princeton-type center get 11 assists in a long time, let alone with only three turnovers.'
Robinson seemed a little overly excited after the victory over Hofstra, which won 21 games a year ago and represented the Colonial Athletic Association in the postseason College Basketball Invitational.
Hofstra was a tougher opponent than Oregon State's first two conquests - Cal State Bakersfield and West Alabama. But the Pride are undersized, with nobody taller than 6-7, and they had made the long trip west from Long Island.
'If somebody would have told me I could sit here talking about being 3-0, I'd probably given my right arm,' Robinson told the media. 'This may be the gutsiest win I've seen since I've been here.
'A bunch of really good players from New York City come here and try to steal one from you. To take a punch in the mouth and be able to deliver one back and come out with a win is tremendous.
'There's a really good feeling in the locker room right now, playing a game like that.'
Oregon State never really shook loose from Hofstra, in no small part due to making only 26 of 40 free throws. If the Pride hadn't been even worse - 19 of 32 - it might have really gotten hairy for the Men of Orange.
The Beavers trailed by five points late in the first half and went into intermission behind 41-39. They took the lead early in the second half but were still ahead only 76-70 with 2:10 to play.
But the Beavers pulled this one out. A year ago, it would probably have gone into the loss column.
'We were down, but we fought through adversity,' said Collier, whose high as a freshman was 19 points. 'It's going to be like that throughout the whole season. We responded well. We kept on playing hard. We didn't give up.'
The Pride, Robinson offered, 'tried to get physical with us, tried to change up their defenses, changed their offense a couple of times, and each time our guys handled it.
'That is a function of their maturity,' the OSU coach said. 'It's still a young team, but they've played quite a few games now, and ... they've seen a lot of things.'
Still, it was a potential defeat without the performance of Cunningham, who shattered his previous career high of 24 points and could have gone for 40 had he not missed on 5 of 17 foul shots.
The 6-4 junior was 1 for 5 from 3-point range but 10 for 11 on his other attempts for the field, driving to the basket with resolve and the smooth ride of a Lamborghini.
'We needed every minute that Jared was out there,' Robinson said. The Pride 'woke a sleeping giant. Jared was having a sluggish day until they started pressuring him, and they got him going.
'He decided he was going to take the game over and make sure we weren't going to lose. He is playing assertively, like an All-Pac-(12) player right now. We had some dry spells, and he picked us up, put us on his shoulders and slogged us through.'
Hofstra went on a 14-0 run during one first-half span when the Beavers went 5 1/2 minutes without a point.
But this is a different Oregon State team than the first three versions of the Robinson era.
The Beavers are looking to run, and they can convert in transition. Against Hofstra, they scored 26 points off of 15 Pride turnovers.
After three years of using mostly zone defense, man-to-man is now in vogue at Oregon State. The Beavers used it for maybe 30 minutes Wednesday night. And though it's still a work in progress, it's an important step if they are to make any noise in the Pac-12 this season.
'I would prefer to play man all the time; we just haven't had the horses to do it,' Robinson said. 'You get in foul trouble more (in man), but we have 10 guys we can put in the game now. That's a good thing.
'We held them to 31 points in the second half, which is more what we want to do. We wore them down with our pressure. I was really happy with the way we played 'D.' '
The biggest shortcoming of the Beavers would appear to be shooting. There were the problems at the line -- Collier was an unsightly 7 for 13 -- plus they were 2 for 13 from 3-point range. They need guards Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson to provide accuracy there, and they need Cunningham - whose perimeter shot seems improved - to score from distance, too.
Oregon State has only one senior, reserve center Kevin McShane, with six freshmen and sophomores among the top 10 players. But it has leadership from such as Cunningham and Burton and enough talent to finish in the upper echelon of the conference and - gulp - contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Beavers have to win the games they're supposed to win to get there, something they've not done at an alarming rate the previous three seasons. They should go 8-0 in non-conference games at Gill, and they should win on the road against Towson and Chicago State.
Put that together with a 10-8 record in Pac-12 play - a doable goal - and it's a 20-victory regular season.
An early test comes next weekend at East Rutherford, N.J., in a tournament that matches OSU with Texas, then either North Carolina State or Vanderbilt. The Beavers will get a true measure of themselves after facing those quality programs.
Robinson said his current squad is 'extremely tough-minded. I won't have to worry about that.'
The time to begin proving it is now.