Only eight months until basketball season

Gill Coliseum saw a game for the ages on Wednesday night, as postseason basketball returned to the city of Corvallis for the first time since a loudmouthed kid named Gary Payton donned the orange and black. There was a rollicking, deafening (announced) crowd of 6,394 Beaver faithful in the stands. There was a titanic comeback from 18 points down in the second half, to send the game into overtime.

There were late-game heroics, alley-oops, clutch three-point shooting, put-back slams, and an atmosphere that felt more like the NCAA Championship game than the opening round of the NIT’s.

And at the end, as is true with all great contests, there was a buzzer-beating, game-winning shot in overtime that send the winning team screaming on to the court in triumph.

Unfortunately, that team was Cal State Fullerton.

Immediately following the game, our own message boards were humming with activity. One poster proclaimed: “INCREDIBLE that we lose this game at home! [It] makes this season seem less credible than it was. Very sickening loss.”

Most Beaver fans would agree with this sentiment. The loss was certainly hard to swallow, especially after such a great team battled back from enormous adversity to give themselves a shot at victory. The crowd was pumped, the players were pumped, and the comeback was complete – didn’t Karma owe us a fairy-tale ending?

The answer, much to the chagrin of OSU faithful, is no. But let’s not chalk up the game, and furthermore, the whole season up as a loss simply because a guy named Ralphy hit a runner from the key. To truly see the game for what it’s worth, we have to analyze its most critical points.

Why was Oregon State down 16 points at the half?

The answer comes in three parts. The first was Bobby Brown, the sophomore guard for Cal State Fullerton. All Whitney Houston jokes aside, Brown smacked around the Beavers in the first half from three-point land. To say that he went “Salim” would be an understatement – Brown shot the lights out from three-point land, nailing five out of his six long-balls, often with hands in his face. There wasn’t a defensive lapse for the Beavers; there was an offensive explosion for the Titans.

The second was turnovers – 10 of them. The Beavers COULD NOT take care of the ball. Lamar Hurd had a rare travel, Kyle Jeffers couldn’t track down some passes, and lobs down low ended up in the trumpet section of the OSU band. The Beavs seemed disconcerted with the speed that CSF possessed, and couldn’t find any offensive rhythm in the first half.

The third (and this will come as a shock to Beaver fans everywhere) was rebounding. The bigger, stronger team had six offensive rebounds as a team for the ENTIRE GAME. Contrast this with CSF’s Jamaal Brown and Ralphy Holmes, who had six offensive boards EACH. OSU wasn’t hurt by Cal State’s shooting as much as the frequency of it – at halftime, the Beavs were shooting better as a team (46.7% to 45.5%), but had taken 14 less shots.

Why didn’t Oregon State put the game away in the second half?

The Beavers had a shooting percentage over 25 POINTS BETTER than Cal State’s in the second half (51.7% to 26.5%). In fact, CSF only made nine shots from the field during the last 20 minutes. OSU used this to their advantage, making critical shots to tie the game up at 74 with about three minutes left.

Unfortunately, when the Titans did make shots, they made them when they counted. OSU toyed with the double-digit lead for much of the half, but could never convert on missed CSF opportunities, and so remained out of striking distance for too long.

Certainly almost everything went right for the Beavs in the second half. They had fewer turnovers, shot better, played defense better, and kept Bobby Brown from hitting another three. If either David Lucas’s lay-up with about 20 seconds or Nick DeWitz’s prayer at the buzzer would’ve gone in, we’d be talking about Denver on Saturday right about now. But 16 points is a big burden to throw off, and in the end it was just too little, too late for the Orange Attack. Enter Overtime.

Why didn’t we take the momentum going into OT and turn it into a win?   Again, OSU didn’t rebound, and they didn’t make the shots they needed to. Again, CSF somehow made the most out of their opportunities. Again, OSU went home empty-handed and broken-hearted.

The biggest reason why there wasn’t a double overtime, which would’ve boasted even better for the Beavs (Cal State’s five starters had all logged over 40 minutes for the game by that point), was the inability to guard the buzzer-beater by Ralphy Holmes. Not that it was necessarily a lapse on OSU’s part; quite the contrary. In post-game interviews, Holmes had this to say about the shot:

“We do this all the time in practice, to my teammates that's a regular shot for me … I just elevated and tried to get a good shot off. It was a great shot for me, I guess ... It's like coach says, 'You live or die by that shot.' I was tired, too, so I had to hit it.”  And that’s all she wrote.

Where do we go from here?

Believe it or not, despite the tarnish of an opening-round loss in the NIT’s, the OSU basketball program has a bright future. Oregon State loses All-Pac-10 native son David Lucas, but returns the four players who made up the starting lineup for most of the season (Lamar Hurd, Kyle Jeffers, Nick DeWitz, and Chris Stephens). Beaver fans should also remember that OSU went 8-3 without Lucas in the lineup this year.

Crowd support is always a good measure of success, and right now it’s better than it has been in years. OSU averaged around 7000 fans a game this season – not bad for a team that had suffered 15 straight losing seasons prior to this one. Moreover, the crowds are LOUD. Students are flocking to the games, and with a good team and a good schedule, the days of sellouts and long lines may not be far off.

Gill is being renovated, assistant coaches are turning down offers to go elsewhere, and Jay John’s program grows better every year. While a season-ending loss may sting, one can’t help but look with optimism at what the future holds.

Mark your calendars – only eight months until basketball season.

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