CORVALLIS It was Senior Day at Gill Coliseum Sunday, and the folks in the building got into the moment.
A sellout crowd of 9,604 was rocking, and seniors Gary Payton II, Olaf Schaftenaar and Langston Morris-Walker played key roles in their final home appearance during Oregon States 69-49 smackdown of Washington State.
They had a very successful Senior Day, Washington State coach Ernie Kent conceded afterward. It was a great environment here.
Payton II did his usual do-it-all thing, collecting 13 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals as the Beavers (17-10 overall, 8-8 in Pac-12 play) took an important step toward remaining in contention for their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1990.
Schaftenaar had one of his best games of the season, contributing 11 points, five assists and three rebounds with no turnovers while sinking three 3-point shots. And Morris-Walker, a virtual nonentity over the past month, provided eight points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals in 13 productive minutes off the bench.
The Beavers second sellout crowd of the season was on hand to send off seniors Payton II, Schaftenaar, Morris-Walker, Jarmal Reid and Daniel Gomis.
The fans were electric from the beginning, OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said.
So were the Beavers for a while, jumping to leads of 20-6 and 31-15 against the Cougars (9-20, 1-16), who showed very little life in their 15th straight loss. Oregon States advantage was 53-30 with 12 minutes remaining, and the Beavers had it wrapped up in a game they couldnt afford to lose after Wednesdays scintillating 82-81 win over Washington.
It was a good week for us, Tinkle said. Two must-wins, and we took care of business.
Today wasnt a thing of beauty. The message to the guys was to stay in character, stay disciplined and poised for 40 minutes. We didnt quite do it, but it was an emotional day. Im proud of the effort and the win.
Oregon State held Washington State to .364 shooting and the lowest scoring output of an OSU opponent all season. The inept Cougars played a part in that.
It was the same old story for us, said Kent, in his second season at the Wazoo helm. We left points on the floor, particularly in the first half. We had excellent opportunities to score, which would have made it more interesting the second half. (The Beavers) played with a tremendous amount of freedom and energy in the second half before that great crowd.
Payton II sprung a surprise on the partisans, scrapping his usual No. 1 jersey for the retired No. 20 his father, the great Gary Payton, wore during his Beaver days.
It was to give respect to my Pop, the junior Payton said with a smile. The community out here aint seen (a Payton wearing No. 20) in a long time.
When Payton II showed it to his father sitting courtside as usual just before tipoff, He was laughing, Payton II said. I knew it was a surprise then. Id tried to keep it a secret as much as I could. It was a success.
Tinkles son, freshman forward Tres, chipped in 13 points, six rebounds and two steals. And freshman center Drew Eubanks continued to emerge at both ends. The 6-10 Reynolds High grad scored 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds. He was a force at the defensive end, blocking four shots and influencing several others.
Weve gotten Drew through the hard times, the senior Tinkle said. He thought he was being picked on (by coaches) for a while. We told him, Just continue to learn and work and not get down on yourself; this is all going to click in.
For about the last week and a half, he has been the the most attentive at practice he has been all year. When youre dialed in and getting it done in practice, it carries over.
Now the Beavers face their most important road trip in 26 years. They play at Southern Cal on Wednesday and at UCLA on Saturday. Some things to consider as the Beavers try to position themselves for a spot in the Final 68:
Oregon State is a lousy free-throw shooting team. For the season, the Beavers are at .663, 11th in the Pac-12. They were 7 for 17 from the line against Washington State after starting the game 5 for 5.
That could cost us a game at some point, Tinkle said. Weve been good at times, but inconsistency and focus thats part of what were trying to build.
Oregon State has had fewer turnovers than opponents in 15 of 16 Pac-12 games.
Maybe its because we shoot it before we turn it over, Tinkle joked. But weve been pretty good at taking care of the ball.
Oregon State is 13-0 when it outrebounds an opponent. OSU won the board battle against Washington 41-25 and against Washington State 43-33.
Its a matter of toughness, Tinkle said. Weve taken a big advance in that department the last two games.
Oregon States national RPI was a solid No. 30 before the Washington State game. It may drop a couple of spots even after beating WSU, because the Cougars came in at No. 200. But OSUs RPI will be a plus, not a minus, to the selection committee if it can remain in the 30s. And a win at USC which was No. 37 on Sunday would help.
We have several wins over top-50 (RPI) opponents, but none on the road, Tinkle said. USC plays really well at home (the Trojans are 15-1), but were going to challenge our guys.
Pundits forecast at least six and perhaps as many as eight Pac-12 teams making the NCAA Tournament. Five teams -- Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona and Colorado -- appear to be locks. That leaves Oregon State, USC (19-10, 8-8), Stanford (15-12, 8-8) and Washington (16-13, 8-9) battling for between one and three spots. A win at USC would be a huge step for the Beavers.
Oregon State is 29-5 at home during its two seasons with Tinkle at the helm. Gill Coliseum is definitely a difficult place for an opponent to come away with a victory.
Oregon State is 3-7 on the road this season 1-6 against Pac-12 foes. But the Pac-12 is a home league. No conference team has a winning record overall on the road this season. Pac-12 road teams are 38-78 in conference games. A split on the Beavers final road trip would reap dividends.
These games are crucial, Tinkle said. We feel we have to win one. By taking care of business this weekend, it took some pressure off of having to win both. We have a good feeling about whats ahead.
Im just thrilled were talking about that potential. We control our destiny. Lets go make it happen.
Even if the Beavers split in Los Angeles, however, they probably have to win at least one game in the Pac-12 postseason tournament to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. That would give them at least 19 victories.
Why, incidentally, does Oregon State play two fewer regular-season games (29) than all Pac-12 teams except Stanford?
The NCAA allows teams to play 11 non-conference games beyond the 18-game conference schedule. But if a team plays in multi-team events, it can play three or four games and count them as one in terms of the 29-game regular-season limit. All Pac-12 teams participated in such events. Oregon, for instance, played four games in November (against Jackson State, Baylor, Savannah State and Arkansas State) in what was billed as the Global Sports Shootout. The Ducks wound up with 13 non-conference contests on their schedule and will play 31 regular-season games.
Oregon State had planned a November event in Corvallis in which the Beavers would have faced Valparaiso, Iona, UNC-Charlotte and another opponent. Late in the summer, UNC-Charlotte and the fourth school cancelled. We got shorted two games, Tinkle said.
That could hurt the Beavers if they are on the bubble on Selection Sunday. They could wind up being a 19-win team instead of a 21-win team, albeit in two fewer games than many schools.
On the other hand, Oregon States strength of schedule was ranked No. 1 in the nation before the Washington State game. Non-conference games against Kansas (No. 1 in RPI), Tulsa (35), Valparaiso (44), Cal Santa Barbara (92) and Iona (108) help the Beavers cause, along with a strong Pac-12 schedule.
Kent took two of his Oregon teams to the Elite Eight. He knows what it takes for a team to get to the NCAA Tournament. Asked about Tinkles progress toward that goal, the Washington State coach made an interesting observation.
Hes on his way, Kent said. They have players. The fans are back. The style of play is great. They are a program that has not been to the tournament since 1990. Keep all that in mind right now. They need to close out and do some things, but thats a long time not to have NCAA Tournament opportunity for a school and a program.
Yes, it is. Oregon States fans want desperately for their team to participate in the Big Dance this season. Tinkle wants it, too. But he knows its about taking things one step at a time.
We have to stay in the moment, he said. USC is up next. Going into this season, we felt expectations of this team would be to play in the postseason. I remember saying Im not sure which tournament (NCAA or NIT). Were still in the discussion.
We cant be content. The minute we get content, we get away from what got us here. We have to stay focused and hungry, and hopefully our best basketball is in front of us.