Rathbone: It’s time to unleash Stephen Thompson

Men’s Basketball vs Colorado

Brian Rathbone, Sports Editor

The time is now for Stephen Thompson Jr.

Nearly six minutes into Saturday’s game between Oregon State and Colorado, the Beavers had scored a total of four points—once again finding themselves in the midst of another slow start that has plagued them through the first half of their Pac-12 schedule. 

In OSU’s two worst losses during conference play—78-72 loss at home against Stanford and a 86-68 blowout loss on the road against lowly Arizona State—it a took long stretch of time for the offense to find its groove. 

With seven games left in the regular season, the Beavers are teetering on the edge of punching their ticket to March Madness for the first time in nearly a quarter-century. Each game, the stakes become higher and the personnel moves become more magnified. 

One move that needs to be made is inserting freshman guard Stephen Thompson Jr. into the starting lineup, replacing junior Malcolm Duvivier.

In a must-win weekend series to keep postseason hopes alive for OSU, Thompson Jr. rose to the occasion twice.

On Saturday, when Thompson Jr. entered the game at the 13 minute mark, the Beavers were trailing 7-4. After a pair of Gary Payton II free throws and a basket by Colorado, it became a 9-6 game—then Thompson Jr. took over.

Thompson Jr. promptly scored six straight points for the Beavers, hitting a jumper, then scoring a layup in transition, followed by collecting his own rebound to give the Beavers a 12-9 lead—all within a 90 second period. 

The Beavers closed out the half on a 18-10 run and took a 30-19 lead into halftime, and eventual winning 60-56 over Colorado. 

This came two days after Thompson Jr. willed the Beavers to victory in rather spectacular fashion. 

Trailing four with 2:30 left in the final half against Utah, Thompson once again came through, scoring eight of the Beavers’ final 14 points, including drawing a foul on a halfcourt shot at the buzzer. With no time on the clock, needing to make two free throws to win, Thompson Jr. drained all three to complete the comeback. 

If the Beavers don’t get those two performances out of Thompson Jr., the NCAA tournament, barring a run in the Pac-12 tournament, would be lost. 

Thompson saved the season, it’s time to reward him for it.

I can understand why Tinkle is reluctant to insert Thompson Jr. into the starting lineup — and why he took his sweet time to insert his son, Tres Tinkle, into the starting five as well.  He wants to make sure that the highly-touted freshmen earn their spots.

He also got really good play out of Duvivier a season ago. The 2015 OSU team was supposed to be a longshot to win 10 games—they won 17. A large part of them overachieving was the play of Duvivier. Multiple times that year, Duvivier carried the team, while finishing second on the team with 10.7 points per game to go along with 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in nearly 35 minutes a game.

But Duvivier has not returned to last season’s form, seeing his season averages drop substantially. Not only has his scoring dropped from 10.7 to 6.2, but his playing time has dipped from 34.8 to 25.5 minutes per game. 

As it turns out, Thompson Jr. has earned his opportunity to be a starter, and Duvivier isn’t applying much resistance. Thompson Jr. is third on the team in scoring at 11 points a game, has more steals and blocks than Duvivier, and as we witnessed this last weekend, can carry an offense.

Each game from here on out carries more and more weight. The team’s strongest lineup has to be the one that starts the game. When Thompson Jr. is on court, the Beavers are a better, more dangerous team. 

The time is now to make him a starter, before it’s too late. 

 

On Twitter @brathbone3