The Cowboys got off to a slow start before building a solid 9 point lead at the half. It’s a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, but it did dip as low as 4 before the Cowboys reasserted control and finished strong against a short-handed Wildcats team.
As the title says, taking care of business is the best way to describe this game. The Wildcats had 8 players available to play this game, and only 6 of those were scholarship players. Add that to a Wildcat squad that already has struggled to a 5-7 (1-3) record coming into the day, and really the Cowboys just did what they needed to do. That said, it was nice as a fan to see that happen, and to see success that can hopefully be turned into momentum as the Big 12 grind continues.
Early on the Cowboys allowed K State to dictate the tempo. Despite decent shot selection, players not named Isaac “Ice” Likekele were having trouble finishing however, and the Pokes fell behind by as much as five around the 11 minute mark. They would go back and forth, until the Cowboys closed out the half strong behind a steady Likekele and a trio of triples from Avery Anderson, Likekele, and Rondel Walker to grab a nine-point lead at the half.
The ‘Cats would go on a run in the second half to cut the lead down to 33-29 at the 18-minute mark, but the Cowboys did something very interesting just before this point. Coach Boynton called an early timeout to stem the momentum and refocus his squad. Sometimes, it seems like Boynton values timeouts too much, and waits until a run is well underway, but just like this team is growing, so is the young coach.
After start Cade Cunningham got dunked on by the big Kansas State freshman Davion Bradford to punctuate the lowest point of the second half, the Cowboys started to retake the momentum behind great games from Ice, AA, Rondel, and Kalib Boone. They would go on to make their last 13(!) attempted field goals to take a 70-54 dub back on the bus to Stillwater with them.
Let’s talk a little bit about those performances though, and one rather large name that wasn’t among them.
Kalib Boone had his best game of the season, and while it came against a beleaguered K State squad, it’s still a good sign, and maybe just what he needed to find a spark the rest of the way in his sophomore campaign. I think having him, their only big that sees significant playing time, reach his potential is huge in having the Pokes reach their potential on the season. Boone finished with an efficient 14 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists. You’d still like to see that aggressiveness on offense translate to aggressiveness on the boards, but he makes some nice passes out of the post as well that really show glimpses of his toolset if he can put it all together.
Ice stayed his uber-steady self with an almost-double-double 15 points and 9 rebounds. Avery added 11 points, 4 boards, and 4 assists. Freshman Rondel Walker delivered another outstanding performance with 15 points and around 1-million tipped balls. Even Bernard Kouma had a nice 3-minute soak where he scored a bucket and denied entry to the paint at a very acceptable level.
But let’s talk about that glaring omission. All-everything superstar Cade Cunningham scored 5 points on 3(!!) attempted shots. Now, it says something about his game and his character, that he still added 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and a block, but we have to find a way to get Cade more involved on offense. I think he’s truly bought in to the Cowboys success this year and so he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. And if it means 16-point wins the rest of the season fine, but I think the Cowboys need to find a way to facilitate a little the other way for their star for them to find consistent success.
I almost forgot about another absent player as well in Bryce Williams.. He took one shot and had one personal foul in 6 minutes of play. He’s been a revelation in his time with the Cowboys, so hopefully it’s nothing, but it’s definitely something to watch going forward.
On the other side, Kansas State got 15 points from Mike McGuirl and DaJuan Gordan who did their best to shoulder the load, but when walk-on Joe Petrakis (who played pretty well in his defense) is getting significant run, it’s probably not a good sign.
It goes without saying that it’s not getting any easier in the Big 12, and these young Cowboys will have to continue to grow and get better if they want to start turning this into success at the top half of the league. The Cowboys move to 8-3 (2-3) on the season with KU coming to Stillwater on Tuesday.