CORVALLIS – Wayne Tinkle’s voice was clearly audible late in Thursday’s game against No. 5 Arizona at Gill Coliseum.
“Keep fighting! Keep fighting!” Tinkle exhorted.
The Beavers trailed by 18 points at the time in a game they lost 71-54 before a half-full arena of 4,745, but what mattered most was giving maximum effort, and that has not wavered even as the losses mount.
Make no mistake: It has been a disappointing season for the Beavers (4-19, 0-10 Pac-12), who just 11 months ago made their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1990.
There are many reasons behind OSU’s slide from a 19-win season, beginning with what is looking more and more like season-ending injuries to sophomore forward Tres Tinkle (wrist), the Beavers’ leading scorer at 20.2 points per game, and center Cheikh N’diaye (shoulder), the only senior on the roster.
Add the departure of two-time all-Pac-12 guard Gary Payton II, who is playing in the NBA Development League, and two-year starting guard Malcolm Duvivier, who left school for personal reasons before the season, plus a youthful roster, and you have the ingredients for a season of growing pains.
Beavers push No. 5 Arizona
Still, OSU led Pac-12 leader Arizona (21-2, 10-0), a legitimate Final Four contender, 29-27 at halftime in what Tinkle called “probably the best 20 minutes we’ve played this year.”
The Beavers couldn’t sustain their high level of play in the second half and Arizona dominated after intermission.
As for Tinkle’s “keep fighting” mantra?
“There’s no choice,” he said. “That’s what Beavers are all about in every sport. We’re gonna grind and we’re gonna find a way to continue to build.”
There’s no choice. That’s what Beavers are all about in every sport. We’re gonna grind and we’re gonna find a way to continue to build. -- Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State head coach
Tinkle, who in his third season, inherited a rebuilding project when he took over for Craig Robinson after spending the previous eight years at his alma mater Montana of the Big Sky Conference, where he led the Grizzlies to seven winning seasons and three NCAA tournament appearances.
The Beavers won 17 games in Season 1 of the Tinkle era with a roster that included seven walk-ons, followed by a magical run to March Madness that created a buzz in Beaver Nation. OSU was ahead of schedule in Tinkle’s first two seasons.
Pieces in place
The 2016-17 campaign has brought a steady dose of reality, but there is reason to believe in Tinkle and his program.
Wayne Tinkle’s son Tres, who has played in just six games, likely is looking at a medical hardship and could return next season with three years of eligibility remaining. Tinkle, sophomore guard Stephen Thompson Jr. (17.0 ppg) and sophomore forward Drew Eubanks (14.8 ppg, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks) form a solid nucleus.
Add freshman guards JaQuori McLaughlin (11.1 ppg, 3.0 assists) and Kendal Manuel (7.7 ppg), freshman forward Ben Kone, bruising sophomore center Gligorije Rakocevic (12 points, four rebounds vs. Arizona), and a recruiting class that includes wing Zach Reichle, last season’s Oregon Class 5A Player of the Year from defending state champion Wilsonville, and guard Ethan Thompson (Thompson Jr.’s younger brother), a four-star recruit from Los Angeles, to the equation and it’s reasonable to envision OSU developing into a Pac-12 contender.
“It’s not just about this season,” Rakocevic said. “It’s about building for next season and the season after that.”
It’s not just about this season. It’s about building for next season and the season after that. -- Gligorije Rakocevic, OSU sophomore center
Wayne Tinkle, who signed a two-year extension last June that would keep him in Corvallis through the 2021-22 season, has the pieces in place to build a consistent winner despite this season’s results.
Judge OSU on future potential
The 2016-17 Beavers need to be judged on their future potential. OSU fans, who endured 25 consecutive seasons on the outside looking in at March Madness, need to be patient.
Arizona coach Sean Miller noted that Tinkle, Eubanks and Thompson Jr. “can play on any roster on any program in the Pac-12,” and McLaughlin is “one of the best young guards in our conference.”
“I think they have some good young players to build from,” Miller said. “Obviously Wayne is an excellent coach. What he did a year ago speaks for itself.”
I think they have some good young players to build from. Obviously Wayne (Tinkle) is an excellent coach. What he did a year ago speaks for itself. -- Sean Miller, Arizona head coach
OSU players have combined to miss 50 games this season due to injuries. Tres Tinkle and Thompson Jr., who missed six games with a foot injury, only played together in the season opener. Wayne Tinkle has not used injuries and youth as an excuse. He continues to remain positive and exudes resolve.
Perhaps that first Pac-12 win will come Saturday against Arizona State. But even if it doesn’t, the Beavers won’t be down for long.
“We know we have enough people in our corner that we’re gonna keep building this thing and there’s brighter days ahead,” Tinkle said.