CORVALLIS – It was a night of celebration for the Oregon State men’s basketball team.
Early in the first half of Friday’s Civil War matchup against Oregon, new football coach Jonathan Smith was introduced and received a standing ovation as he walked onto the court at Gill Coliseum.
A crowd of 6,482 had plenty to cheer about, especially in the second half as the Beavers extended a 30-29 halftime lead to as much as 17 points en route to a 76-64 victory.
The Beavers (10-5, 2-1 Pac-12) have already doubled their win total from last season in total victories and Pac-12 wins, and have served notice early in conference play that they could be a formidable team.
Fourth-year coach Wayne Tinkle, who led the Beavers to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 26 years in 2016, shared part of the pregame message he delivered to his team in the locker room.
Tinkle talked about everything the Beavers had been through since Year 1, including a 5-27 injury-riddled campaign last season that was the most losses in school history.
During a 13-day trip to Spain last August, the Beavers were in their team hotel in Barcelona when a nearby terrorist attack resulted in 13 deaths and more than 100 injuries. It was a harrowing experience that brought the team closer together.
OSU won all four of its games in Spain, and entered the 2017-18 season determined to put the struggles of the previous season in the rear-view mirror.
Having a healthy Tres Tinkle back – Wayne Tinkle's son missed the final 26 games last season with a broken right wrist – has provided a major boost.
“I said, ‘Guys, now’s our time to shine,’ Tinkle said in the postgame media gathering. ‘You guys have earned the right to be great.’”
OSU has a long way to go before it’s a great team, but the pieces are in place for the Beavers to be a team to watch in the Pac-12 this season.
The "big three" of Tinkle (19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists), Stephen Thompson Jr. (16 points, six assists) and Drew Eubanks (15 points, eight rebounds, two blocks) delivered, and so did Seth Berger, a graduate transfer from UMass who scored a season-high 12 points.
Kendal Manuel scored all nine of his points in the second half, including a 3-pointer with 6:08 remaining that extended the lead to 62-46 and culminated a 17-3 run.
Oregon (11-5, 1-2), which returns only one starter from last season’s Final Four team – sophomore guard Payton Pritchard - never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“We challenged our guys at halftime to pick up the intensity and get more aggressive,” Tinkle said.
The Beavers were the more aggressive team after intermission, and their defense in both man-to-man and zone contributed to a poor shooting game from the Ducks (36.2 percent).
OSU made 52.8 percent of its shots and had a 43-36 advantage on the boards.
The challenge moving forward for OSU is learning to win on the road. The Beavers have played just one true road game thus far, a 79-78 loss Dec. 21 at Kent State.
Tinkle, Thompson Jr. and Eubanks are in their third season’s in the program, and Berger is a college hoops veteran.
The Beavers need to continue to build depth with players like Manuel, a sophomore guard, and freshman forward Alfred Hollins.
Another player to watch is Ethan Thompson, (Stephen Thompson Jr.'s younger brother), a freshman guard who has started every game thus far.
“It was remnants of my freshman year beating (Oregon) here,” said Eubanks, a 6-foot-10 junior forward. “We’ve gotta move on to the next game and we’re gonna enjoy (the win) while it’s here, but we’ve still got to go on the road.”
The Beavers bounced back from a 66-64 home defeat to Utah on Dec. 31 with a strong performance against Oregon.
OSU’s first Pac-12 road trip begins Thursday at No. 16 Arizona, followed by a Jan. 13 matchup at No. 6 Arizona State. If the Beavers are competitive against two ranked opponents it would be another encouraging sign.
It’s a long season, but for now at least OSU is trending in the right direction.
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/ghorowitz