STILLWATER – Last season, the foundation was established. This season was supposed to be about building upon that, but it has been a roller coaster instead.
With tears welting in his eyes, Oklahoma State basketball coach Mike Boynton praised his undermanned squad for its tenacity and toughness, even after a 72-67 defeat against No. 15 Kansas on Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“They embodied a spirit that I want this program to be about,” Boynton said. “They’re doing probably one of the hardest things to do, which is not allowing the results to affect the process. They’re trying to make sure that their process gives them a chance to affect the results. That’s what we talk about every day.
“At the same time, I don’t want them to get comfortable with losing.”
The Cowboys have done plenty of the latter this season, dropping its 19th game compared to 10 wins. The Cowboys are 3-13 in Big 12 Conference games and have won only four contests in the calendar year.
The building is continuing, even if the results aren’t showing. For the second time in as many games, the pesky Cowboys took a top-15 opponent to the final buzzer, looking to secure an upset and ruin championship aspirations. Both times, though, it was small shortcomings that ended their hopes.
Against Kansas (22-7, 11-5), it was finishing the game without making a basket for the final 4:02. It was committing too many fouls, resulting in 23 free-throw attempts for the opposition. The Jayhawks made 20 of those, including a 9-of-9 clip from Dedric Lawson, who led all scorers with 20 points.
It was an 11-0 run given up early in the second half. The Cowboys garnered a seven-point cushion before turnovers and missed baskets flipped the scoreboard. Then it was the rebounding battle, which Kansas secured 41 of compared to OSU’s 34.
The adversity these Cowboys have faced is unheralded for the players, but junior Cameron McGriff said they have to work for success.
“We can’t just lean on thinking just because we’ve been through what we’ve been through, good things are just automatically gonna happen to us,” McGriff said. “We have to make them happen, so as a team, we have that in the back of our minds.”
McGriff tallied 19 points before fouling out with 1:38 left, his best performance in three weeks. Curtis Jones had his second-highest point total since joining OSU, also adding 19.
Even throughout the contest against the Jayhawks, OSU overcame some adversity while trying to build on its foundation. Lindy Waters left the game with about 15 minutes left in the first half with an apparent right leg injury. Burying his face in a towel to consume his emotion, he hobbled to the bench before heading to the locker room.
Eight minutes of game time later, he was back.
After hitting four 3s in the final 55 seconds to force overtime against the Red Raiders, Waters had a chance to again tie the game Saturday. After faking a screen, Waters found himself in nearly the same spot: the right wing.
This time, he was wide open. It didn’t matter.
Kansas secured the rebound and bolstered its hopes to win a regular-season Big 12 title for the 15th consecutive season. Waters slouched his shoulders but kept his head high, as teammates provided support as he walked off the floor.
“We want him to shoot that 10 times out of 10,” McGriff said. “They’re not all going to fall down, but it was a great look. Coach drew up a good play, and it just didn’t go our way this time.”
As Boynton winded down in his postgame news conference, he began to speak on the future. One where the Cowboys have a top-25 recruiting class for 2019 with the promise to get better. Five-star recruit Isaiah Todd and four-star Christian Brown were in the building on visits. Both could join the 2019 class, though Todd would have to reclassify from 2020.
Boynton has shown he is committed to recruiting, something that’s required to build a program. He promised while he is at OSU, they will not have many more 10-win seasons.
For now, the foundation looks unstable and things don’t look right. But under Boynton, the foundation is solid for those who are closely associated with the program.
“My grandfather told me you get in life what you work for,” Boynton said. “We just need to work a little harder. That’s how I approach it. I’ll go home, I’ll do what I’ve done for 29 games. I’ll watch film, make some notes, come back tomorrow, make some recruiting calls, try to figure out how to make this program better.”