Yesterday, the wife and I went to the Oregon State campus to take in the Oregon State Men’s basketball game against the Washington Huskies. In what has become typical Beaver fashion under new coach Wayne Tinkle, the scrappy team defense led them to a 64-50 victory. It raised the Beavers home record to 14-0 this season, the best home streak to start a season in their history.
Speaking of history, let’s go back to the second half of 2014. Personally, this is when I arrived in Corvallis. I had no ties to Oregon State aside from my wife’s new job, but being a sports fan in general, and enjoying my wife’s pay check from the university specifically, I began to check out some of the OSU football games in hopes of rooting them on, which were fun, in a low expectation kind of way. (With the exception of the Civil War game against Oregon, which was a blowout loss, and a pretty ugly scene with the fans, but that’s another story.) At the time, there was a lot of talk about this new coach of the basketball team and the hope the school had for the future, but the reality of this year did not look good at all. With the staff turnover leading to player turnover, and uncertainty that came out of last season, the Beaver program looked to have a seriously talent problem. In fact, they didn’t even have enough scholarship players to scrimmage and were holding open tryouts. They had a handful of returning players, and a junior college transfer who’s name you might recognize, Gary Payton II.
Expectations were low. In fact, the preseason media predictions had OSU at the very bottom of the PAC 12 standings. No one questioned that. On paper, they are out-manned, out-sized, out-recruited, just plain out everything. When you watch them at Gill or on the road, they can be painful at times. They struggle to score, rarely get up and down the court, and aren’t pretty. But they defend, and make you earn everything against them. Every pass, every shot, every rebound is a battle for the full 40 minutes. That’s got to be annoying as heck to play against.
On my first few trips to campus, I walked right past Gill Coliseum, and had absolutely no idea it was the basketball arena. Talk about nondescript. It was built in 1949, it seats around 9,400 for basketball, and it’s like a scene out of Hoosiers. It has none of the advantages of modern day arenas, and if I had to compare it to any arena I’ve been in, I’d have to say it has the look of Ohio State’s old St. John arena, but half the size.
Like the basketball team, the arena is not pretty. It’s outclassed by most other arenas around the PAC-12 let alone the country. There are no fancy amenities, no luxury suites, no theater seating, and the concessions are nothing to write home about, either. But when the students get going, it is LOUD, and they are right on top of you. After attending the upset win over Arizona earlier in the season, we went home with our ears ringing.
Somehow, despite all of these disadvantages, this scrappy team that fights for everything, and this scrappy arena that rises to the occasion to support them, has combined for 14 straight wins to start the season. Rather than being dead last in the PAC-12 they currently sit tied for 3rd. They have a chance to make the NCAA tournament, although it will be a challenge with the lack of strength of this conference and their 2-7 record away from Gill, but even getting into the NIT would be a huge improvement over what was expected.
I have to be honest. As I said earlier, I have no ties to Oregon State. I went to school at Ohio State and grew up rooting for Syracuse as a kid in NYC. But damn, this team is easy to root for. It’s pretty fun too!