LOS ANGELES — After Jared Cunningham dressed at Kobe Bryant’s locker in the Los Angeles Lakers’ dressing room, he went out and had his worst game of the season in Oregon State’s Pac-12 tournament opener.
Luckily for the conference’s leading scorer, Cunningham’s fellow Beavers stepped up to shut down Washington State.
Devon Collier scored 19 points, Eric Moreland scored all nine of his points in the second half and high-scoring Oregon State excelled in a defensive struggle, beating Washington State 69-64 Wednesday. Oregon State will face top-seeded Washington on Thursday at Staples Center.
Joe Burton scored five of his 15 points in the final 3 minutes as the ninth-seeded Beavers (18-13) survived despite getting just four points from Cunningham, the smooth shooting guard from Oakland.
“When I’m not scoring, I’m not worried, because I know everybody else can contribute,” said Cunningham, who went 1 for 8 and scored just two points in each half. “Tomorrow I’ve just got to get into Kobe mode and try to play hard.”
Oregon State managed just one field goal in the final 7 minutes yet held Washington State without a basket in the final 4:06 to snap a four-game skid against the ninth-seeded Cougars (15-16). Oregon State finished on an 11-4 run.
Cunningham’s streak of 22 straight double-digit games ended in a meeting with second-leading Pac-12 scorer Brock Motum, who had 18 points and six rebounds.
“If you told me before the game that would be his line and we would win, I would have to ask you what you had to drink,” Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. “But for us to win when Jared has a so-so game shows maturity for our team. What Jared didn’t do on offense, he made up for on defense.”
Cunningham said he forced too many shots against Washington State’s aggressive defense, but his teammates compensated. Collier went 7 for 8 and had six rebounds, while the 280-pound Burton played through a minor ankle injury.
“The maturity level of our team has been growing all season long,” Robinson said. “We have been acting like we’re in the next (season) already. We’ve always gotten better, which is what we expect.”
Motum had another strong game, but his Cougars went 7 for 25 in the second half. Marcus Capers had 14 points and eight rebounds but missed two important free throws with 1:21 to play. Reggie Moore endured a horrific 3-for-16 shooting performance largely against Cunningham’s defense.
“Who knows what would have happened if we would have come out and played stronger early in the game?” Motum asked. “We need to value each possession. The little things we didn’t do hurt us late in the game.”
Cunningham’s free throw with 3:16 left tied it, and Collier put the Beavers ahead 62-60 on two more free throws. After D.J. Shelton missed a potential tying free throw for Washington State, Burton hit two more to put Oregon State up 64-61.
After Capers’ misses, Burton hit an easy layup with 57 seconds left and another free throw with 37 seconds to play.
“We couldn’t have won a game like earlier in the season,” the Beavers’ Ahmad Starks said.
Starks got Oregon State off to a fast start with four 3-pointers in the first 6:20, with the diminutive point guard getting a boost from Gary Payton.
The nine-time NBA All-Star watched the game courtside next to fellow ex-Beavers star A.C. Green. Starks hit a fast-break 3-pointer to put Oregon State up 22-8 just 6:20 in, and Payton gave him a standing ovation as he ran back down the court gesticulating to the small crowd.
“Oregon State came out and threw the first punch and landed it pretty hard,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said. “We were lethargic in the first 8 or 10 minutes, but it was impressive the way our guys came back and took the lead at halftime.”
But Washington State recovered with a 24-6 run, reclaiming the lead on a 3-pointer by DaVonte Lacy with 5:06 left in the half.
Cunningham picked up a flagrant foul early in the second half for an apparently overzealous response to a screen, allowing Washington State to take a six-point lead. Motum scored 11 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half, but Moreland scored nine in the same tight stretch as Oregon State evened it.
“We need to learn from this game,” Motum said. “We need to take care of our defensive possessions better.”