The Oregon State men’s basketball postseason run ended Monday night.
It was a 21-day road trip for the Beavers that saw the coaches and players spend more time together in that stretch than they probably had with their families in the past year due to the pandemic.
Few opportunities to get outside their hotels in Las Vegas and Indianapolis were presented. OSU used the extended time as a group to continue building chemistry and cohesiveness, and the result was an improbable six-game winning streak that carried the Beavers all the way to the NCAA’s Elite Eight.
It was a shining example of a team playing its best at the right time.
“We showed amazing heart, fight and we got every ounce out of this group that we could,” OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said after the 67-61 loss to Houston in the NCAA Midwest Region final in Indianapolis. “It’s a credit to them, it’s a credit to our staff and then all those that never quit on us.”
The finality of it all was hitting senior guard Ethan Thompson hard as he spoke to the media after Monday’s game.
It was likely the last game in a Beaver uniform for Thompson, but no final decision has been announced. If it’s the end, he’ll leave Oregon State seventh in career scoring, third in assists and first in starts.
“Having each other, something consistent in this year, spending time with each other. My teammates are great guys and … now I’m about to start crying,” Thompson said before gathering himself. “We’ve had a great bond and great experience with each other.”
The impact of the past three weeks is certain to go beyond that bond between the current players and coaches.
Recruiting, financial support for the program and the players’ confidence to build future success on the court could also get a shot in the arm.
In 2016, his second season at Oregon State, Tinkle guided the Beavers to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990. But injuries to key players, among other factors, the following season kept the program from gathering the momentum and led to a 5-27 season.
OSU won 16 games the following year and 18 each of the next two seasons. Tinkle believed the 2019-20 team, which finished with three straight wins, including a victory against Utah at the Pac-12 tournament, could have produced a similarly fast finish to this year’s team. But the coronavirus prevented that from being realized.
This year’s late-season push gave OSU 20 wins, the most in Tinkle’s seven seasons.
There were tears in the Beavers’ locker room Monday, knowing how close they had come to the program’s second Final Four after the deepest postseason run in 39 years.
“But the overwhelming thing, we showed incredible heart and grit. We came together, we put the team first, that’s how we got on this run,” Tinkle said.
Oregon State was in the college basketball spotlight the past few weeks, and Tinkle says that’s paying off already with contacts being made.
He expects more doors will be opened as he and his staff try to build on what’s been accomplished.
“Even though we had this tremendous success, it’s not going to change who we are. Even when we had the low lows, it didn’t change who we were. We continued to grind and to do things the way we do them and we know it’s going to lead to even greater things,” Tinkle said.
“This was almost an unprecedented run. But we feel like we were this close (putting his thumb and index finger close together) and if we all can find a way to gain just a little bit more from each other we’ll be able to take another step.”
Tinkle and his players have said the past weeks that the support from their fans has been felt and appreciated.
Thompson said the fan base deserves the success.
“Coming into the program, I knew that we were going to see bright days and I’m just glad that we were able to get this success, win the Pac-12 championship and make a deep run in this tournament,” he said. “Obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted it to but it’s an amazing ride and the love and support from Beaver Nation is everything and it’s incomparable.”
Oregon State gave people in the Beaver State and beyond reasons to celebrate and smile despite the struggles many in the world have suffered.
Tinkle called it “incredible.”
“Not just for Beaver Nation but everything our society has been through the last 12 months,” the coach said, also noting the good times given to the families of his players. “And then so many others that were looking for some kind of therapy, some kind of joy, happiness through all of this. It’s amazing.”
Jesse Sowa can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @JesseSowaGT.