CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State won just seven conference games during the 2017-18 men’s basketball season, finishing 10th in the Pac-12 Conference.
The Beavers lost their second game of the conference tournament and then saw junior forward Drew Eubanks, who averaged 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, declare for the NBA draft this offseason.
OSU also lost seniors Ronnie Stacey and Seth Berger, and former Billings Skyview High School star Kendal Manuel left the program. All three appeared in at least 20 games, with Berger and Manuel each averaging more than 10 minutes per game.
But all that and coach Wayne Tinkle is still “thrilled” with his team.
“We’re coming off a great bounce-back year,” said Tinkle, who is entering his fifth season at OSU after eight largely successful seasons at Montana. “It was tough two years ago, obviously, with all the injuries, but guys really stayed together through it all. We were in a lot of our games.”
The Beavers finished with a 16-16 overall record but lost just three games by double digits — two to Southern California by 13 points each and one to Arizona by 10.
“Every other game was single digits, and it was just missed free throws or a missed possession here,” Tinkle continued. “We felt like we could’ve had four or five more wins. So we’re on the verge of getting back to where we feel we’ll be competing consistently in the top half of the Pac-12 and getting back to the postseason, getting back to the NCAA Tournament like a few years ago.”
Tinkle led Montana to seven winning seasons and three NCAA Tournament appearances from 2006-14, and his Oregon State tenure got off to a similarly strong start. The Beavers won 17 games during the 2014-15 season and then 19 in the 2015-16 season, making Tinkle just the second coach in program history to win at least 17 games in each of his first two seasons at the helm.
But after qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 2016 — OSU’s first appearance in the Big Dance since 1990 — Tinkle’s squad fell on hard times. Injuries and youth hit as the Beavers stumbled to a 5-27 record in 2016-17.
Tres Tinkle, the coach’s son, missed the bulk of that five-win season with a broken wrist. In his return, he put together a first-team all-conference season, leading the team in points (17.6 points per game), rebounds (7.2 rebounds per game) and assists (3.7 assists per game). He also ranked second in steals and blocks.
“I was thrilled for him, just because I hurt so much for him for what he missed out on,” Wayne Tinkle said of his son. “He’s such a hard worker and a great teammate that I could just see the despair in his eyes when he couldn’t be out there battling for his teammates. Just to see him have a complete year, and really didn’t skip a beat – I mean, came back with a vengeance and had a great sophomore year. I know that it’s going to lead to good things for us, because he’s instrumental to what we do with his unselfish play, his hustle, his toughness and his skill level. I know he’s just going to keep working hard to be that much better next year.”
The younger Tinkle is one of four starters Oregon State expects to have back for the 2018-19 season. Stephen Thompson Jr., Ethan Thompson and Alfred Hollins also return, and the Beavers are adding Kylor Kelley and Jack Wilson, who both stand 7-foot tall, and Warren Washington, a 6-11 power forward.
Wayne Tinkle hopes that core will be able to build on last season’s successes and turn narrow defeats into victories. He’s hoping to add a traditional point guard on the recruiting trail, as well, to help lighten the play-making burden on his son.
(Update: Oregon State announced the addition of 6-foot-3 guard Jordan Campbell from Adelanto, Calif., a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and 247 Sports. He averaged 29.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 4.1 steals during his senior season, while leading the team to a 22-3 record. Campbell scored a career-high 51 points on Senior Night and was a two-time Desert Sky League Most Valuable Player.)
“We had some success, especially toward the end of league. I think the confidence of what we have coming back and what we’re adding will turn that around,” the coach said. “The one thing we’ve got to do is find ways to win games on the road in league, we haven’t been great there. I think a lot of it was lack of toughness and maturity and depth, and we’ll really answer that with the recruiting class that we’ll be bringing in and that we’re going to add to this spring to get to where we’re hopefully winning 20-plus games and trying to get to that postseason.”