Langston Morris-Walker

Win over No. 7 Arizona gives Oregon State’s rebuilding efforts a significant boost

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After winning 63.5% of his games in eight seasons at Montana, Wayne Tinkle made the decision last spring to take on the difficult task of rejuvenating an Oregon State program that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 1990. With the top five scorers from last season’s team having moved on, Tinkle entered the 2014-15 season working with less than a full cupboard.

But instead of using that as a crutch Oregon State has battled, and their rebuilding efforts received a significant boost in the form of a 58-56 win over No. 7 Arizona Sunday night in Corvallis.

Langston Morris-Walker’s layup with 26.9 seconds remaining broke a 56-all tie and gave Oregon State its first win over a team ranked in the AP Top 10 since beating then-No. 3 Arizona in 2000. Undefeated at home this season, the Beavers got the job done on both ends of the floor. Offensively they were methodical against one of the nation’s better defenses, taking few forced shots, and that resulted in Oregon State shooting 51.3% from the field and 5-for-11 from beyond the arc.

Entering Sunday’s game Oregon State shot 40 percent or worse in seven of their 14 games, so despite their 10-4 record (now 11-4) the Beavers have been hit-or-miss on that end of the floor. And prior to Sunday the Beavers shot 50 percent or better in just three games, and the opponents (Corban, Auburn and DePaul) are nowhere near as solid defensively as Arizona has shown itself to be throughout most of Sean Miller’s tenure as head coach. Morris-Walker (12 points) and Gary Payton II (ten) were Oregon State’s only double-digit scorers, but all seven Beavers who managed to score tallied at least six points.

The other key for Oregon State was the way in which they defended, primarily using an active 2-3 zone to limit the Wildcats to 37.8% from the field and 4-for-17 from beyond the arc. Starting big men Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski combined for nine points (3-for-11 FG), with Tarczewski failing to grab single rebound. Add in leading scorer Stanley Johnson finishing with seven points on 2-for-4 shooting, and Arizona struggled to establish any kind of flow on the offensive end.

Oregon State became the third team this season to hold Arizona below 40 percent shooting, with UC Irvine and San Diego State being the others.

Oregon State has some solid pieces, most notably a junior college transfer in Payton II who also grabbed nine rebounds and dished out three assists, and point guard Malcolm Duvivier was better than his assist-to-turnover ratio (three assists, four turnovers) on Sunday would lead one to believe. But it was the strategies employed by Tinkle and his staff on both ends of the floor that put the Beavers in position to earn this regime’s first signature victory.

With the 2015 recruiting class being what it is (including Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr.), there was some cautious optimism in Corvallis. Sunday’s win over Arizona will only help Tinkle as he works to end Oregon State’s NCAA tournament drought and make them a factor in the Pac-12.

Can Morris-Walker defensively spark Oregon State in Pac-12 tourney?

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After starting in every Oregon State game since early January, Langston Morris-Walker had cemented his status as one of the Pac-12’s most improved players. The wing barely left the bench as a freshman, and it appeared this trend would continue through the Beavers’ non-conference slate, but the defensive boost Morris-Walker added to the lineup earned him playing time. However, Morris-Walker missed this past Saturday’s game while suspended for breaking an unspecified university rule — it was later clarified that the sophomore was arrested and charged with driving under the influence — but coach Craig Robinson will require a full roster if the tenth-seeded OSU is to shock the PAC-12 (as some, like John Gasaway, have highlighted as a possibility) and confirmed Morris-Walker will play in the conference tournament.

What is interesting about this season’s squad is the Beavers have finally discovered how to score the ball in Pac-12 play — their 1.06 offensive rating is tied for most efficient under Robinson — but the team has struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball. The Beavers don’t force turnovers, and since they also don’t keep opponents off the defensive glass particularly well, many of the team’s defensive possessions result in a made bucket. Morris-Walker provided some semblance of defensive fortitude — the soph has shown skill as a harassing on-ball defender — so with him back in the lineup, it will be interesting whether his spark will provide a defensive stabilization. This Beavers’ squad is offensive imposing (the team converts threes at a rapid rate), so if OSU can manage to hold teams long enough, the team might just be the Pac-12’s ultimate sleeper.