The Oklahoma State men's basketball team is still struggling to find its footing with starting sophomore point guard Isaac Likekele out with illness.
The Cowboys lost a second-straight home game without its leading scorer and facilitator, this time to a mid-major powerhouse right up I-35.
Wichita State took it to OSU, rolling to a 80-61 win – getting ahead by as much as 29 points midway through the second half – just 10 days after the Cowboys beat a Power 5 Conference program by 41 points.
“They came in and physically dominated us. It started early on the glass, specifically, but it was throughout,” Cowboy coach Mike Boynton said. “… We certainly did not respond the necessary way to have a chance in a game like this.”
OSU is having to utilize a pair of freshmen to try to run the point in Likekele’s absence, but the numbers between the two haven’t compared to what OSU is used to from its sophomore starter who was averaging 31 minutes per game.
Chris Harris Jr. – who was recruited as a shooting guard – has gotten the start in both games, while Avery Anderson III has been used off the bench. The duo has averaged 12.5 points with 3.5 assists, four rebounds and four turnovers. OSU’s normal starter has been averaging 13.7 points, 5 assists, 5.3 rebounds and just 2.1 turnovers per game.
“I know that they were without a tremendous player,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “That makes a huge difference, and there's nothing you can do about that.”
Harris has been the biggest contributor, scoring nine points Sunday – after 10 against Georgetown – with two assists and two rebounds against the Shockers.
“I've had to be more of a point guard because I came in as a two guard,” Harris said. “Now I'm having to control the tempo and find guys in spots and trying to turn into a floor general. I'm confident in the switch and am still learning.
But it hasn’t just been Likekele that OSU missed for a second game this week.
Fellow sophomore starter Yor Anei played half his normal minutes again Sunday due to getting in foul trouble once again.
Anei played 12 and a half minutes, scoring nine points – seven of which came from the free-throw line – with just two rebounds before fouling out.
His time spent on the bench was felt by the Cowboys, who were out-rebounded by Wichita State by 11 – with 14 of the Shockers’ 42 boards coming on the offensive end and leading to 23 second-chance points.
A good portion of the second-chance points came from the perimeter, contributing to the Shockers making 11 of 26 (42%) from behind the arc – where as OSU had just eight second-chance points and made just three 3-pointers.
“They got all the offensive rebounds that they wanted, and I think – if I’m not mistaken – I read the stat sheet in the first half and they had 19 second-chance points and I think four of them were 3-pointers off of those offensive rebounds when you’re usually just not in the position to defend that shot,” Boynton said. “If you’re in scramble mode, those are much more difficult to defend as a second shot, and I thought they did a really good job taking advantage of that.”
OSU struggled to get the ball moving without Likekele, nobody was able to find that much of a rhythm on the offensive end.
Senior guard Lindy Waters III led the Cowboys with 11 points, though he shot 36% from the field (4 for 11) in order to get his points. And fellow senior Cameron McGriff mustered 10 points – and a team-high seven rebounds – as the only other Cowboy to reach double digits.
Boynton didn’t have a timeline for the return of Likekele – saying he has yet to return to practice to even determine if he would have the strength or stamina to play in a game. But what could help is OSU will have a week before its next game to either get him healthy, or to work with the younger guards in practice to prepare them for an expanded role. The Cowboys will play at Houston on Dec. 15.
“He’s doing better, and the more time off, the more rest he gets can continue to help him,” Boynton said. “It’s hard. He has a presence about him. …
“He makes plays that gives other guys confidence, and right now, we’re missing that. We’ve got to find somebody, and maybe it’s an opportunity for somebody else to emerge similarly – from a vocal, from an emotional standpoint to kind of rally the troops.”