The break between the fall and spring semester has always presented college basketball teams an opportunity to reflect on themselves and work on getting better as a team without having to worry about the academic side of things.
And in the middle of a pandemic, that break was still much needed for Oklahoma State – and a little bit longer than usual.
The Cowboys will have gone two weeks between competitions when they travel to Lubbock, Texas, to take on No. 13-ranked Texas Tech at 3 p.m. Saturday. But the extension between games has once again afforded the program a time to try to figure out some deficiencies that has led to back-to-back losses to open Big 12 Conference play.
“We just came back with a different focus – I seen it in everybody’s eyes,” sophomore guard Avery Anderson III said. “They want to come back and go on a winning streak. We’ve been working hard and practicing and competing against each other, and I think we’re gonna fight. We’re going to have a good fight in us against Texas Tech.”
One of the most glaring discoveries for the Cowboy players was the lack of ball distribution.
Anderson mentioned how they were trying to play too much one-on-one on the offensive end, and the stats would support his statement. In the six nonconference wins, OSU had 83 assists on 164 field goals made – an average of 51 percent – while it dropped drastically in the two conference losses, with only 20 assists on 56 fields (36 percent).
And according to Cowboy coach Mike Boynton, some of that comes with Cade Cunningham – and his teammates not falling into the role of being spectators on the floor.
“This isn’t the Cade Show,” Boynton said. “ I know he gets a lot of attention and he’s a really good player. We stand around and watch him. I tell them, ‘We have a lot people who are tuned in on TV, the guys on the court have to be a part of the game, it’s not time to watch. Be involved, try to find a way to help.’”
Getting better flow out of the offense will be an even greater need for Oklahoma State considering its next opponent.
The Red Raiders ranked second in the country in scoring defense, giving up just 53.7 points per game.
“They’re a great defensive team,” freshman forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe said. “They’re a team that likes to take a lot of charges. Their help defense is great, so this whole week we just been preparing for that … expecting them to play a great defensive game.”
It wasn’t all work for the Cowboys over the past two weeks.
With the athletes effectively being trapped on campus since the middle of summer, in order to help keep control of the COVID-19 pandemic running amuck within the program, Boynton elected to give his players a few days away – with many going back home.
“We’ve had these guys here since basically the last week of June, and asked them to not do anything except show up to practice and go to class and go to the weight room, and they’ve done it,” Boynton said. “So they all needed a couple days to go home and kind of recharge the battery, decompress, get away and re-evaluate things, and they all came back with great energy, great attitudes and have able to look at things as what they are not what we hoped they would be.”
However, not all of them were able to get back to see family over the holiday break.
Moncrieffe – who hails from Mono, Ontario – was unable to return to Canada due to travel restrictions with the pandemic still raging.
Instead, Moncrieffe spent his free time to just escape.
“I spent my break in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was a quiet break,” Moncrieffe said. “… I made some good food and I just relaxed.”