HOOPS: One they should have won

CORVALLIS -- It was the last home game for the Beavs, the 60-59 loss to Cal, as well as the last home game for senior center Joe Burton. Oregon State fought tooth and nail, recovering from what had at one point been as much as a 16 point deficit, eventually inching to within one point with 4.3 seconds remaining on the clock. Yet irony reared its ugly head at the end of this bout…

Cal started the game up by one – and they ended the game up by one. A pre-game dunk by Olaf Schaftenaar that was seen by a member of the officiating squad was an automatic technical prior to the beginning tip off. Only one of those two free throws was made.

The initial 15 minutes of the first half were sloppy at best for OSU – including a stretch where the Beavs couldn't buy a basket. In spite of some impressive defense on behalf of Joe Burton, Eric Moreland and Roberto Nelson, Cal started to build a significant lead.

With eight minutes remaining in the first half, the Beavs were down 22-8 and struggling to find that beneficial little thing called consistency. The first half culminated with Cal being ahead 29-20.

Sound boring? Well, there was a twist. Each conference game Oregon State has played this season has truly been a tale of two halves, but this particular game proved to flip the usual dynamic. Normatively, the Beavers have a stellar first half followed by a lackluster and fatigued second half where they lose a lead, and ultimately the game. Beaver Nation is all too familiar with this theme.

This contest boasted perhaps one of the most aggressive and impressive performances that Oregon State has managed to put together in the final 20 minutes since the inception of 2013 conference play. Was it because it was Burton's last home game? Was it the powder blue jerseys the Beavers were sporting? Or – *gasp* – is this team learning how to play a complete game?

"I'm really proud of our guys," said Craig Robinson. "I know I keep saying that, but when you look at our efforts in games that don't mean as much for us right now – to see our guys go out there and battle the way they did, especially after a rough start – as a coaching staff it's hard not to admire guys like that."

It was one hell of an uphill battle for the Beavers, who went in at halftime down by nine points, accompanied by a meager 21.6 percent success rate when shooting from the field.

Enter Ahmad Starks - who had been 0-4 from the field in the first half – the junior guard came onto the court in the second half like a refreshing gust of wind and knocked down two treys. It gave the Beavs life, and gradually Oregon State started to shorten their opponents lead as opposed to their own.

An even more significant portion of that second half push was the doing of Burton, who hustled more, pushed harder and helped spread the ball around in the paint. The senior center ended the night one rebound shy of a double-double. In total, Burton scraped up nine boards, 15 points and seven assists on the evening, and was a relative powerhouse in the paint compared to some of his past performances.

Nelson had yet another strong performance, despite putting up a mere 10 points and three boards with no assists. The junior guard played all but three minutes of the contest, leading the team with 37 minutes of playing time. He was the guy to watch at the top of the key – setting up a wealth of clean looks so that the likes of Burton, Moreland and Devon Collier could make their drives to the hoop. He was quick to reset formations after offensive rebounds, and he hit a key three.

Perhaps the most impressive bit of Nelson's night was his ability to slow down Cal's Allen Crabbe, whose evening ended with just six points, nine boards and three assists. Crabbe has led the Pac-12 in scoring most of the season.

But in the end, the Beavs ran out of time. It was a very emotive loss that told a unique story of this Beaver basketball squad down until the final buzzer. No one player on OSU's roster played for himself tonight – they all played for the team, and specifically Burton. Hell, it may have not been a win, but it goes without much saying that Burton's final game in Corvallis was, as it should have been, a stylish one.

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