Picked to finish last, the Beavers are surprising the Pac-12
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) When Wayne Tinkle took over at Oregon State, he inherited a program in disarray. The Beavers even held open tryouts to fill out their roster going into this season.
But Oregon State has gone a surprising 16-7 overall and the team hasn't dropped a single game at home. The fans are coming back, too, with ever-increasing crowds filling Gill Coliseum.
The Beavers are currently knotted at 7-4 in conference play along with Stanford and rival Oregon, sitting behind Pac-12 leader Arizona and second-place Utah. That's significant, since Oregon State was picked to finished last in the league's preseason poll.
''We really do a good job of keeping everybody grounded, to be honest. What I love is that our community is rallying behind us, because I think our guys have been through a lot,'' Tinkle said. ''We haven't been making excuses, we haven't been throwing out `ifs' and `buts,' we're not wanting anybody to give us songs of sympathy, and we're trying to stay in the moment. We'll enjoy it in the offseason, wherever it leads to.''
Tinkle was hired by the Beavers last May after eight seasons at Montana, where he took the Grizzlies to the NCAA tournament three times and finished below .500 only once.
He replaced Craig Robinson, brother-in-law of President Barack Obama, who was let go after six seasons during which the Beavers failed to make the NCAA tournament. The once-proud Beavers have not been to the NCAAs since 1990.
Oregon State finished 16-15 last season and was bounced in the first round of the CBI by Radford. The Beavers finished ninth in Pac-12 play at 8-10.
Tinkle had a heady task. After tryouts in the fall, he had seven walk-ons on his roster for his first season.
One of the newcomers to the program has a familiar name.
Junior guard Gary Payton II, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College, joined his famous dad's alma mater. The senior Payton played at Oregon State from 1986-90 before embarking on an 18-year Hall of Fame career in the NBA.
Payton, leading the team with an average of 12.7 points and 8.0 rebounds, said Tinkle has emphasized defense. The Beavers are ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of 56.6 points a game, and first in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot an average of 36.8 percent.
''From Day 1 he's been about lockdown defense,'' Payton said. ''For any chance for us to win, we have to be locked in on the defensive side. We've been into it.''
But after all the challenges for the Beavers this season, they're still facing adversity: Early Sunday, junior forward Victor Robbins was cited for driving under the influence in Benton County.
Robbins was already serving a 10-game suspension for violating an athletic department policy, imposed on Jan. 15. He was eligible to return against Utah on Feb. 19. It is not known how the Beavers will address the latest incident.
The program's revival is catching on with fans: On Sunday, when the Beavers beat Washington 64-50, there were a season-high 9,114 fans in attendance.
Oregon State has even come up with a new nickname for Gill Coliseum: Fort Wayne.
''Coach Tinkle and his staff have done a tremendous job,'' Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. ''The energy in this building was very impressive. Those guys have a belief in how they play, and how they go about their business.''
The victory against the Huskies was the Beavers' 14th straight at home to start the season, a school record. But milestones like that are off-limit topics for the Beavers right now, as they embark on the final seven games of the regular season.
''What record?'' Tinkle laughed.
''It means a lot,'' chimed in guard Malcolm Duvivier. ''Coming in here, there were a lot of doubters toward out team. That just motivates us to come out here and work hard. We want play the game the right way, be that gritty team, that hard-working team. And the fans love it.''