As Lorenzo Romar answered for his team’s fifth consecutive loss, a more jovial conversation, no more than a few dozen feet away, filled the hallway in the basement of Gill Coliseum.
Gary Payton’s voice is unmistakable, and there he was Sunday afternoon, laughing and chatting and laughing some more with a group of Oregon State Beavers supporters outside the team’s locker room. The former Seattle SuperSonics legend had just watched his son, Gary Payton II, revel in the atmosphere of a victory played before an adoring home crowd.
After nearly a quarter-century of mediocrity and misery, they’re enjoying a sort of basketball renaissance at Oregon State, and Payton II is perhaps the most essential part of it.
The junior guard scored a game-high 17 points and grabbed five steals to help fuel Oregon State’s 64-50 victory over Romar’s Washington Huskies. The victory improved the Beavers’ home record to 14-0 — they’re 16-7 overall and 7-4 in Pac-12 play — and they did it before a warm gym filled with 9,114 people.
The Huskies (14-9, 3-8 in Pac-12) responded by filling it with turnovers, smothered by OSU’s relentless, attacking defense.
They committed 22 total, 13 during a dismal first half that yielded a 21-18 halftime deficit, and their inability to control the ball ultimately extinguished any hope they had of becoming the first visiting team to win in Corvallis this season.
This was a group effort, though it’s probably particularly disappointing for UW that its two co-captains, guards Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews, combined to lose the ball 11 times.
“They do a good job in their defense, but at the same time, there were too many unforced turnovers that just didn’t make sense on our end,” Romar said. “And you can’t continue to do that when you’re playing against a team that’s undefeated at home, and plays the deliberate pace that they play. It’s going to catch up with you.”
For a while, UW went unpunished for its sloppiness. The Huskies trailed by only three points at halftime despite a nearly 12-minute stretch without a field goal to begin the game, and they committed nearly three times as many turnovers (13) as they made field goals (five) in the first half.
It was their defense that kept the Huskies in it. OSU committed 11 turnovers before halftime and finished with 16.
But once the second half started, UW watched as Payton and guard Malcolm Duvivier (14 points) maneuvered their way around the Huskies’ guards for a series of layups. The Beavers outscored the Huskies in the paint, 40-24, and shot 55.6 percent from the field in the second half.
“By cutting harder, screening harder, I think we wore on them over the course of the game,” first-year OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said.
So their lead swelled to 35-24 a little more than six minutes into the half, and grew as large as 18 points. The thinnest margin between the teams in the final seven minutes was nine.
And when Payton II caught an outlet pass and flushed an uncontested, two-handed dunk in transition, giving OSU a 51-40 lead with 4:38 to play, another disappointing outcome for the Huskies was essentially sealed.
“We reverted back and gave up far too many layups,” Romar said. “We had started to get better. You could see there was progress in that regard with us. But tonight, they just scored too many baskets at the rim. That’s a bad combination — you’re turning the ball over and they’re scoring at the rim.”
It’s been a miserable 15 days for the Huskies, who in that time have lost five games, four of them since the dismissal of 7-foot center Robert Upshaw. He was a force the first time the Huskies and Beavers played Jan. 15, when Upshaw scored 12 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked six shots, and UW left Hec Edmundson Pavilion with a 56-43 victory.
That feels like ancient history now. And with sixth-ranked Arizona visiting Friday, an end to this skid does not seem imminent.
“I’d be sitting here lying if I told you it wasn’t discouraging,” said senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr., who scored 13 points. “It’s very discouraging. But I feel like we have, what is it, seven more games left? I think we can go back and practice hard and get ready for the next team and go on a run. That’s honestly what I think.”
Considering their 3-9 record since starting 11-0, that belief likely doesn’t extend much beyond UW’s locker room. But Romar and his players are clinging to the hope that they can still make something of another lost season.
“Whenever we step up as a team, and we have a number of guys contribute, we have enough,” Romar said. “But if it’s just that night where we can’t muster up enough offense, then we don’t have a lot of margin for error.”
Or for 22 turnovers.