Column: Robinson turns starters loose, they deliver
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 05:01
Several times during Tuesday’s practice, an Oregon State coach would bark at a player in an orange jersey, informing the player that the orange team was getting its butt kicked by the white team.
The starting unit wears orange jerseys, the second unit wears white jerseys.
The biggest reason the Oregon State men’s basketball team started Pac-12 play 0-5 was not because it lacked a bench.
It was because the Beavers’ best players did not play to their capabilities, oftentimes getting outperformed by the guys who back them up.
Wednesday night, head coach Craig Robinson gave the “orange” team an opportunity to rewrite that script.
And boy, did they deliver.
Oregon State 74, Washington 66.
OSU led by 10 at halftime, and minutes were distributed in typical fashion over those first 20 minutes: eight players got on the court, each player receiving at least four minutes of rest.
That trend did not carry over to the second half.
Over the final 20 minutes, junior guard Roberto Nelson sat a total of 33 seconds. Sophomore forward Eric Moreland sat for 71 seconds. Senior forward Joe Burton and junior guard Ahmad Starks sat for two minutes and 49 seconds, each. Junior forward Devon Collier played 14 minutes.
I don’t remember a time this year when the “orange” unit — Moreland actually wore white in practice this week, but he plays starter’s minutes — was relied on that heavily in one half.
“Because they were playing well,” Robinson said.
I think there’s a bit more to it than that.
Whether he admits it or not, I think Robinson was sending his upperclassmen, his best players, a message.
A, “We’re 0-5, this is your season… now go save it,” kind of message.
One win certainly doesn’t save the season, but it could serve as a springboard toward bigger and better things for a team that was stuck in a rut some figured it wouldn’t get out of.
If OSU is going to turn this thing around — and Wednesday night was a start — it’s going to be because of Starks, Nelson, Moreland, Collier and Burton. The Beavers won’t win on a night when two or more of those five guys aren’t clicking on all cylinders.
Against Washington, Collier led OSU in scoring (16 points) and assists (5). Moreland registered his eighth double-double of the season (12 points, 10 rebounds) and blocked four shots. Burton added 13 points and six boards. Starks, who played just 20 minutes in last Saturday’s loss to USC, shot 50 percent from the field and didn’t turn the ball over.
Nelson was a paltry 3-of-14 from the field, but played well otherwise.
All five of those guys finished in double-figures for the first time since Dec. 31 against Texas Pan-American.
That was also the most recent game the Beavers had won prior to last night.
Sophomore guard Challe Barton spelled both Starks and Nelson several times throughout Wednesday night's game, playing a total of seven minutes. Freshman forward Jarmal Reid played 16 minutes, a large chunk of which came in relief of Collier late in the game for defensive purposes. In the first half, freshman forward Olaf Schaftenaar knocked down two 3-pointers to give the Beavers a boost.
Freshman Langston Morris-Walker didn’t play for the first time in 16 games, but he’s a part of that second group, too.
That distribution of minutes is the recipe for success for this Oregon State team.
At this point in their careers, those second-tier guys can’t, and shouldn’t, be relied on for more than spelling the top guys when they need a breather.
Their other job is to push the starters in practice, which is exactly what they did this week.
“I think the scout team did a great job of getting our heads right,” Nelson said. “I think some of the guys who didn’t get in the game, like Langston, played one of the biggest parts of getting us ready for this week. Langston was out there killing it, Victor [Robbins], too.”
For the Beavers, hopefully the trend of the white team taking it to the orange team in practice continues.
That way, come game time, the orange team will be ready to deliver.
And a bit motivated, because no competitor likes to be told they’re getting outplayed by their back-up.
Grady Garrett, managing editor
On Twitter @gradygarrett