OSU basketball stayin’ alive

Without a doubt, the stakes were high on Saturday against UCLA.

For the second straight game, OSU would be playing without breakout freshman forward Tres Tinkle. Tinkle’s absence played a big role in USC’s double-digit win over the Beavers last Wednesday, and it was certainly threatening to make a dent in OSU’s final regular season game.

After all, at an average of 13.2 points per game, Tinkle has scored nearly 20 percent of the Beavers’ total score on any given night this season. That isn’t something that can be replaced out of thin air. 

Additionally, the loss to USC meant that pressure to win was at a paramount. OSU has sat on the fringe of the NCAA tournament for most of the year, a place that can create a tense environment. Seemingly every game for the last month has been dubbed a “must-win,” creating a tense environment that would probably be exhausting to play under.

Yet, when the final buzzer sounded, the Beavers came out on top in an 86-82 win against UCLA. It was a signature victory for head coach Wayne Tinkle and his team, beating the elusive UCLA basketball team at their house for only the second time since 1988. 

How’d it happen? The only way to sum it up is to speak in cliché: the Beavers put it all together with a mix of heart, hustle and an ounce of adversity. 

Like a good team should, OSU had a cast of characters ready to step up with Tinkle sidelined. Freshmen Stephen Thompson Jr.  came up huge in crunch-time (as he is known to do,) scoring all of his career-high 23 points in the second half

The senior big man Olaf Schaftenaar also showed his worth, hitting a career-high five three-pointers for a total of 17 points, which was his highest career point total in a Pac-12 game. Heck, even the lanky freshman Derrick Bruce joined in on the fun. He scored 11 points, tying his collegiate career-high.

It all came to a perfect conclusion on the final possession. Up two points with little time remaining, Gary Payton II sealed the Bruins’ fate in tantalizing fashion. He stole the ball, preventing a last second shot from the Bruins, breaking away for an earth-shattering windmill jam to secure the win.

With a key teammate down with injury, OSU responded with several career-best efforts. It was a coach’s dream come true.

Sure, the Beavers nearly blew a 16-point lead in the last five minutes of the game, but they survived. Isn’t that what really matters?

As the Beavers celebrated their big victory, “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees seemed a fitting celebration song. Like the funky song suggests, the Beavers aren’t in perfect position at this point of the season. They have seen their fair share of ups and downs and bumps and bruises. At the end of the day, though, OSU is grooving along and keeping the March Madness dreams alive.

Now slated to take on Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, it will be another opportunity for the Beavers to prove their standing in the world of college basketball. Victory would almost certainly lock in their NCAA tournament bid. ASU handily beat OSU earlier in the season, however, and Tres Tinkle’s status is still in the air.

Potentially without a key starter and an NCAA berth still on the line, it will be another high-stakes matchup. For any other team, it would be a game of the extremely high-pressure variety.

For OSU, it’s just another day at the office. They just keep stayin’ alive.

 On Twitter @michaelkievaaa

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