Isaac Likekele didn’t mince words as he spoke on Oklahoma State’s postgame radio broadcast from Lubbock, Texas.
As a fourth-year leader in the OSU men’s basketball program, Likekele can tell when his team needs to hit the reset button. He can sense when the Cowboys’ mindsets are rattled, and Thursday night was one of those times.
After Texas Tech throttled OSU, 78-57, in United Supermarkets Arena, senior guard Likekele had to paint a realistic picture of the Cowboys’ struggles. OSU has dropped two straight games in one week, falling to West Virginia two nights before facing the No. 19 Red Raiders, who never let the Cowboys lead.
“The past game we didn’t play good, and now, this game we didn’t play good,” Likekele said. “To me, we’re in a bad place right now, mentally, really. And that’s easy to overcome because I believe in everybody on this team right now … but we have to have a better mental focus coming into the game, including myself. I have to set the tone for our team, from my mental focus standpoint.”
The Cowboys (8-7 overall, 1-3 Big 12 Conference) found themselves in a predicament early and suddenly. Texas Tech opened the game on a 10-0 run. OSU had two turnovers before scoring a single point. Junior guard Avery Anderson III knocked down a pair of free throws to end the scoring drought, but OSU still couldn’t activate its offense from the field, going 0 for 6 until sophomore forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe threw down a dunk more than seven minutes into the game.
“That’s just completely unacceptable,” Likekele said. “A lot of people want to blame it on the coaches and different things like that, but this is not a coaches’ thing at all. Those guys are putting in endless hours. They’re putting in endless hours to get us prepared, they tell us the right stuff, and we just go out there and not do what they say.”
Despite the Cowboys’ disjointed beginning, they somehow fought their way to a tie. With their own 10-0 run, they lifted themselves out of the deep deficit, knotting the game at 21 when senior guard Bryce Williams sank a 3-pointer with 7:07 until halftime.
It was a valiant effort, but the Red Raiders (13-3, 3-1) had a response.
After Williams’ tying 3, senior forward Kevin Obanor made a layup to put Texas Tech in front again. Obanor, who transferred to Texas Tech after contributing to Oral Roberts’ dazzling NCAA Tournament run, scored a game-high 17 points. Transfer guard Adonis Arms also strengthened the Red Raiders’ offense, adding 13 points and matching Obanor’s total of three 3-pointers.
As Texas Tech followed its upset of top-ranked Baylor with another standout showing against a Big 12 opponent, OSU’s game crumbled. The Red Raiders capped the first half on a 21-6 run, and 15 turnovers hindered the Cowboys as they attempted to narrow the gap, instead only falling further behind.
“It’s not being a tough team,” Likekele said. “Fifteen turnovers compared to their 12. Even though it’s just a three-turnover difference, that’s a big difference in this league. That’s possessions you’re not getting shots up.”
On a sheet filled with troubling statistics for the Cowboys, a few positive numbers jumped out. Sophomore guard Bryce Thompson scored a team-high 14 points, including nine in the second half. Moncrieffe recorded nine points and six rebounds. OSU hinted at shaking off its recent free-throw issues, shooting 68.2% from the stripe.
But the merciless Big 12 basketball schedule offers few breaks and no easy nights. The Cowboys are covering about 3,250 miles this week, and a colossal challenge looms ahead of them: striving to beat No. 1 Baylor at 4 p.m. Saturday in Waco, Texas.
Likekele said he believes his team can do it. The Cowboys have had moments of putting their potential on display this season, he added. They just have to search for answers within themselves, and the crushing loss to Texas Tech showed them what they need to avoid replicating.
“It’s a must-win game,” Likekele said. “And if we go out there and play like we did tonight, it won’t be a pretty game.”