Oklahoma State opened up their season against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles on Wednesday evening with a clean slate and whole season’s worth of potential excitement. It was a natural carryover from the previous day’s off-the-court excitement.
The substitutions came early and often as Boynton began to feel out how his new pieces would fit within his returning arsenal of starters. First off the bench was the European Hidde Roessink for Yor Anei, then Chris Harris for Thomas Dziagwa, Kalib Boone for Cam McGriff, Avery Anderson III for Isaac Likekele, and finally Keylan Boone for Lindy Waters III. Grad transfer Jonathan Laurent was the last new piece off the bench.
Coach Boynton subbed in all eleven available scholarship players by the time the game and season were eight minutes old.
Through all of this shifting the early star was a familiar face in Lindy with a quick eight points.
The offense started off fairly smooth and sharp, and the defense almost equally as rough and sloppy. Unnecessary double-teams led to open looks for ORU players, as the Pokes struggled to distance themselves early.
Out of the under sixteen TV timeout Boynton called half-court pressure that resulted in a turnover as a meager 10-11 lead would finally stretch to 10-20. The pressure showcased a lineup with imposing length, as an impressive amount of orange closed down the ORU passing lanes.
Unfortunately, the strong defense would ebb and flow through the half, but under five minutes the pace started to pick up and a stark contrast in athleticism seemed to emerge as the Cowboys extended their lead back to ten by the under four timeout at 22-32.
The pace and athleticism came at a cost too, as the freshmen and seniors alike made unforced errors to keep the lead from extending further. The Cowboys would take a 30-39 lead into the half.
The second half saw the returning Cowboys starters play for a longer stretch, and their experience seemed to rekindle some of the strong play they had down the stretch last season. The Cowboys would push their lead to 34-50 before Oral Roberts was forced to take a timeout before the under-sixteen could arrive.
That timeout proved to be effective though as a series of Cowboys lineups let the lead get cut in half to 43-51 by the under-twelve timeout. A lot of the lead was relinquished by a full lineup of new guys as Boynton tried to let them figure out the growing pains on the fly.
The starters returned to the game and immediately regained control as they pushed the lead out to fourteen at 44-58. But as they seemed to do the whole game, ORU punched back and cut the lead back down to ten at the under-eight timeout.
The lead would fall all the way down to a nervous six-point lead at the five-minute mark before a old-fashion three-point play on a Likekele drive pushed it back to nine. But again ORU would punch back to cut the lead to 61-66 at the 4:20 mark.
ORU would cut the lead to one on multiple occasions before the Cowboys were finally able to ice the game away at the line (after Yor blocked almost literally every ORU shot) to escape with the 75-80 win.
A quick whistle in the second half seemed to muddy the game up and never allow the Pokes to get into a solid rhythm. Down the stretch my mind started drifting toward the season opener last year where the Cowboys squandered a comfortable lead to lose a game they never should have. Luckily, this time the Cowboys escaped.
Maybe that’s a good omen, an exorcism of sorts. But it was a very uncomfortable game that should’ve never been uncomfortable.
Some of the credit goes to ORU, some of it is early-season jitters, and some of it is six freshmen trying to find their place in a rotation. We’ll chalk it up to that, but the Cowboys will have plenty of film to learn from between now and Saturday.
Yor Anei: 13p // 10r // 8b
Lindy Waters: 15p // 6r // 3a
Cam McGriff: 10p // 4r
Isaac Likekele: 18p // 9r // 5a
Keylan Boone: 11p // 3-5 3-pt
The Cowboys take on UMKC in GIA on Saturday at 7 PM CST and recent commit (and future first overall pick) Cade Cunningham will be in attendance.