TULSA – Lindy Waters turned around for a stepback game-winner, but as the shot flew over three Tulsa defenders it fell far short.
It was fate that Waters – who had been the savior the last time Oklahoma State visited Tulsa – would be the one to have the chance to send the game to overtime. As the waning seconds flew by, Cameron McGriff barely got Waters the ball before he had to throw up the ill-fated half-court heave.
The Cowboys lost to the Golden Hurricane 74-71 on Wednesday night inside the Donald W. Reynolds Center as the men in orange and black have still yet to win a true road game this season.
OSU had to make a furious rally to even have a chance at the tie and possible win as the Cowboys came out flat in the second half, only crawling back to a respectable margin when it was too late.
Waters made two free throws with a minute left to pull within two points following a Thomas Dziagwa missed 3-pointer. Before the orange faithful in the near-capacity crowd could even cheer, Tulsa star DaQuan Jeffries was hanging on the rim on the other side after a huge transition dunk with contact as he made the ensuing free throw.
Waters then missed a 3-pointer, but the Cowboys were bailed out with Martins Igbanu missing two free throws before Dziagwa hit a deep 3-pointer from near half-court to pull within two again.
The two teams traded shots back and forth before Jeffries made two free throws to counter a McGriff 3-pointer with three seconds left to set up the last-ditch shot from Waters.
“I was just trying to make a play,” said Waters, a Norman North product. “There’s not much you can do with that little time. I was just trying to be aggressive and give our team any chance possible.”
The Cowboys (4-4) had a game indicative of its youth, coach Mike Boynton said. For the first 10 minutes, the team could hardly do anything offensively, with the first five points coming from reserve guard Mike Cunningham – a graduate transfer – and the junior Waters.
Luckily for OSU, the Golden Hurricane failed to get shots to fall early on, as well. Boynton said in the future, it has to change as the team can’t play in bad droughts and then try to make up for it in high-energy spurts or else the Cowboys will stay a .500 team.
“We’re not playing well enough for a long enough period of time,” Boynton said. “I will be honest that part of this is on me for the schedule. … We have now played our fifth-consecutive game away from home with five freshmen playing good minutes for us. I knew that was a challenge coming in.”
The young Cowboys did do well at times after the sluggish beginning, especially freshman center Yor Anei, who finished with eight points, five rebounds and four blocks to only two fouls – which had been an issue for him.
However, unlike the last time OSU played in Tulsa back in 2016, the freshmen couldn’t do it all. Against a Golden Hurricane squad playing in front of more than 7,000 people and looking for its first win over the Cowboys since 2015, OSU just couldn’t match blow for blow with the hyped up Tulsa players.
“I thought it was a great atmosphere for college basketball,” Boynton said. I thought it was a great venue here and the perfect size to host basketball at any level because you can get a good vibe in the building even when it’s not totally full.”
It seemed every time the Cowboys – who went into the half down one point after an apparent buzzer-beater from Duncan Demuth was called off – tried to make it a game in the second half, the Golden Hurricane (6-3) had an answer. Whether it was Jeffries with his game-leading 20 points on eight of nine shooting or Jeriah Horne, who ignited the crowd with four 3-pointers.
Boynton said he believes that games like this will help in the long run, even though it doesn’t feel like it now. With a squad that is rated 306th in the NCAA in terms of experience, it is a process, he said. Boynton could have played an easier schedule, he said, but he wanted to throw his kids into the fire early to get them prepared for tough Big 12 Conference play.
“I have no desire to be the all-time winngest coach anywhere,” Boynton said. “It’s not part of my motivation. I didn’t get in this to do that with the Hall of Fames and all that stuff. I am here to try to make kids better. They get better by playing against good completion. It doesn’t look good when you are 4-4 instead of 7-1 and 8-0, but I think once we turn the calendar and our team has gone through these things, our team will have a better opportunity to have success later on this season.”
For the second-straight game, the Cowboys shot poorly from the line as they were only 6 of 12 compared the Tulsa’s 18 of 21 clip. Boynton knows it is an issue, but doesn’t deem it as the biggest problem right now. He would rather look at turnovers of which the Cowboys gave the ball away 17 times.
The free throws will solve themself, he said.
“We have some really good shooters and we have shot well in some games,” Boynton said. “Obviously the last two, we haven’t. They have been close games and you could certainly point to that as a factor. I still believe in those kids and know they are good shooters. I watch them make them every day in practice. … It’s not like we are going to go out and get guys who will shoot free throws for us. These guys have to step up.”
The road will not get any easier for the Cowboys, but they will get to come home to Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday for the first time since Nov. 18. OSU, whose past two losses have come to teams ranked 82 and 180 in the NET rankings, hosts No. 24 Houston at 3 p.m. The Cowboys are currently No. 58.
“I’m inspired by what I can see the team and program becoming,” Boynton said. “Losing is no fun. … This one will sting and hurt for a while, but it can’t hurt for too long because we have another really good team we are playing against so it’s not like it gets any easier just because we get to come home.”