Column: Nelson, Burton take charge
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 07:02
In a three-bedroom house off of Satinwood Street near Good Samaritan Hospital resides Malaki, a golden doodle, and Budd, a yellow lab.
As for human residents, there’s Johnathon Hoover, a 21-year-old Oregon State University student and team manager on the men’s basketball team.
And then there are the two people who are responsible for breathing life into the Oregon State men’s basketball team and giving us reason to believe the Beavers have a remote chance of turning their season around.
If not for the recent play of Joe Burton and Roberto Nelson, the Beavers would be headed for a last-place finish in the Pac-12 and we’d be discussing where they rank among the worst teams in program history.
Burton, OSU’s lone senior, could have felt sorry for himself after a 1-8 Pac-12 start and decided to finish his collegiate career in cruise control. Don’t act like we haven’t seen past OSU seniors do that very thing.
Nelson, OSU’s best player this season, could have grown frustrated to a point where he thought, “The heck with this, I’m still getting my numbers.”
But earlier this week, Burton and Nelson sat before the media and said all the right things. They said they were trying to stay positive. They said they weren’t throwing in the towel on the season. They said they believed OSU could turn its season around.
It was no coincidence that Burton and Nelson were the two players chosen to attend the press conference. They’re the heart and soul of this team. They proved it earlier in the week with their words, and Wednesday with their play.
The Beavers picked up their second Pac-12 win of the season Wednesday night, defeating Utah by 18 at Gill Coliseum.
Nelson had the most efficient offensive game of his career, scoring 26 points on just 10 attempts from the field. Burton finished three rebounds shy of the second triple-double in program history and held Utah’s best player to two points.
Every time the Utes made a mini-run in the second half, Nelson or Burton stepped up and made sure the Beavers’ lead stayed at a comfortable margin.
“Those guys kept fighting,” said head coach Craig Robinson. “They were going to make sure we weren’t going to have one of those slip-ups.”
When Utah cut OSU’s lead to eight midway through the second half, Nelson hit a jumper and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to extend the Beavers’ lead to 13.
When the Utes narrowed the margin to nine points with 4:38 remaining, Burton converted a lay-up, then assisted Nelson on a 3-pointer the next trip down the floor. A minute later, Nelson scored inside to complete a 7-0 run and put OSU up 70-54.
In the second half alone, Burton and Nelson totaled 25 points and seven assists. Between the two of them, they either scored or assisted on 14 of OSU’s 16 made field goals.
Without question, that’s the mark of two veterans who haven’t given up on the season.
They were stellar last week in the Bay Area, too. Nelson scored 25 versus Cal and 20 versus Stanford. Burton finished the trip with 34 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists.
Asked if he’s noticed anyone step up as a leader over the past couple of weeks, Robinson mentioned both Nelson and Burton.
“I think Roberto’s stepping up today and being a real leader out there is a sign that we’re moving in the right direction,” Robinson said, later adding: “The way Joe’s playing, he’s just feeling more like a leader.”
Burton and Nelson go way back, having played several years of AAU basketball together in Southern California as middle and high schoolers. You have to wonder what their conversations at home have been like in recent weeks. This couldn’t have been the way they envisioned their final season together going. However those conversations went, they must have ended something like, “We’re going to do whatever it takes to turn it around.”
You have to admire Burton and Nelson’s approach. And you can’t help but feel happy for them — they’re two of the most likable guys on the team, and they deserve better than how this season has gone.
Just ask Hoover, their roommate and Nelson’s best friend dating back to their days at Santa Barbara High School.
“It’s finally a relief because I know what they can do together,” Hoover said. “Just to see Roberto play the way he’s been playing, and Joe the way he’s been playing… I just want Joe to go out with a bang. He works so hard. If we can’t turn things around, he at least deserves to play well.
“And Berto, I’ve been waiting for this because I know what he’s capable of. He’s back to his old self. In fact, I planned on telling him when we got home tonight that it looked like he had number 20 on out there, because that was his high school number.”
With Nelson and Burton leading the way from both a production and leadership standpoint, the Beavers finally have something they can hang their hat on.
Grady Garrett, managing editor
On Twitter: @gradygarrett