Stephen Thompson, Jr.’s game-winner gives OSU men’s basketball another turnaround

Men’s Basketball vs Washington

The final 3.3 seconds of Oregon State’s Wednesday night matchup with Washington felt familiar.

Shades of the Utah game three weeks prior returned, when OSU also needed a desperation attempt from Stephen Thompson, Jr. to end a two-game losing streak. Both times OSU trailed by one score with less than four seconds remaining, Olaf Schaftenaar inbounded the ball from his own baseline to the freshman Thompson, Jr., whose game-winning heroics sent Gill Coliseum into a frenzy.

Both times, the gangly sharpshooter from Los Angeles delivered.

If Thompson, Jr. hadn’t gotten fouled in the Utah game and made all three free throws, OSU would have dropped to 3-7 in the Pac-12, but he instead sparked a three-game winning streak. Then, the Beavers had lost two straight before the Washington game and needed a turnaround once more, and his contested 3-pointer gave OSU an 82-81 victory.

“We’ve been in that situation before, knowing that you have to make a play in the last second,” Thompson, Jr. said of the two similar games. “It gave me a little more confidence.”

Now, helped by the momentum of the uproarious Washington win, OSU has made significant strides in player cohesion and collectiveness.

Head coach Wayne Tinkle noticed a determination and solidarity from his players following the Oregon loss on Saturday, both in how they walked off the court together after the game and in a players-only meeting before practice this week. The Civil War loss was OSU’s second defeat in a row and sent the Beavers to 6-8 in the Pac-12, but this week they didn’t act like a team with dwindling postseason hopes.

OSU got hit in the mouth against Oregon—literally, Drew Eubanks got a fat lip from a collision with a Duck player—but it was the Beavers doling out the punishment on Wednesday. OSU had more defensive rebounds than Washington had missed field goals (41 rebounds to Washington’s 25) with a 15-2 advantage in offensive boards and 21-4 in second chance points.

The most important thing has been team unity, though. If OSU is going to make a postseason run, every teammate has to be on the same page. If there was any player who might have a tough time buying in to his current role in the program, it might be senior guard Langston Morris-Walker. He lost his starting job partway through this season for the first time in a year and a half and he didn’t score Wednesday night in just five minutes of playing time. There was no bitterness from the fourth-year player, however.

“I tell you what, we applauded Langston in the locker room because he didn’t play in the second half, but every huddle he was the guy standing in front of the players while the coaches were meeting keeping them fired up,” coach Tinkle said. “He didn’t hang his head, he didn’t pout. And that’s just a small symbol of what we’ve been looking for, not just from him but from everybody. That kind of spirit, that kind of team belief. I’m really proud of him.”

Maybe a feeling of resentment could have built up in Malcolm Duvivier, whose playing time has also dipped this season and he didn’t score Wednesday either, going 0-for-4 from the field in just 13 minutes. When Thompson, Jr. hit the game-winning shot, Duvivier was the only player to not leap off the bench to rush the court. The junior guard, however, happily insists he was just taking it all in.

“I just sat there,” he said. “It was crazy. I got up right after.”

Now, OSU has to make the most of the final three regular season games, including Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in Corvallis versus Washington State, a team with 13 straight losses that Tinkle called “a hungry, wounded animal.”

“We’ve got to put (Washington) behind us and get ready for that team,” Tinkle said.

As for Thompson, Jr.’s evening plans after the game-winning shot Wednesday, he only said “I got homework.”

So do the Beavers, and the work continues Sunday against WSU.

Reaction from Stephen Thompson, Jr.’s game-winning 3-pointer Wednesday against Washington

“It wasn’t really scary at all. I was walking for a few steps and then I think Gary (Payton II) and Tres (Tinkle) ran up to me and the next thing I know, everybody was on top of me. I was just face down on the hard wood. I didn’t notice that most of the student section had got up. I thought it was just most of the team on top of me” — Stephen Thompson, Jr.

“(He’s) automatic. I trust him. Once he puts it up, it’s got a pretty high chance of going in. He just came out and saved us.” – Gary Payton II

“I might have got away with a little bit of steps there. It was a big moment. You just can’t dwell on that. You just got to dwell on the fact that if the ref didn’t say that it was a travel, then it wasn’t there.” — Thompson, Jr. on if he traveled before the shot.

“Probably not.” – Thompson, Jr. on if he could make the shot again

“I thought about it, and I was like, ‘stay away.’ So I just stayed in the corner. I did a little bit of jumping into the guys, but nothing too crazy. That was fun, though. Usually I’m on the court when that happens, but that was crazy. We needed that win, too.” – freshman guard Kendal Manuel, who is recovering from a broken leg, on the postgame celebration

“Trust me, on the inside I’m excited.” – Thompson, Jr.

How coach Tinkle and his players spent the night after the win

“I let him do his thing. I just told him I loved him after the game.” – Gary Payton II

“I didn’t really get to experience it until I went home and watched it through the middle of the night to kind of enjoy it as a fan. I did say right away that it had to be a heck of experience for the crowd.” — head coach Wayne Tinkle

“We just chilled. He was all smiles. We were waiting for SportsCenter to come on, but they didn’t have the top play. I think it was because all their reporters were done for the day. It was just crazy to watch it again.” — Kendal Manuel, who lives with Thompson in the dorms

“No.” – Coach Tinkle on if he got much sleep Wednesday night

“I did mine, I had to. Coach has been on us about getting that stuff done. I don’t know if (Stephen) got his done. I wouldn’t have if I was him.” — Manuel on doing homework after the game