Mike Boynton knew the last time his team played in Tulsa that the players on the floor could be pretty special.
The Oklahoma State men’s basketball coach doesn’t remember much of that game two seasons ago, as losses weigh on his mind more than wins, but he does know what happened after the Cowboy victory.
Boynton, then an assistant, shot hoops in the empty gym along with the younger players who stepped up that day – three of whom included now veteran leaders Thomas Dziagwa, Cameron McGriff and Lindy Waters.
A lot has changed since that 71-67 win capped by a Waters’ step-back jumper. Boynton as head coach, obviously, but also that those young players, which included Brandon Averette and Lucas N’Guessan, who have since transferred.
McGriff, Waters and Dziagwa are attempting to lead a young squad that is still finding its identity much like when Jawun Evans and Phil Forte did when that trio were newcomers.
The Cowboys (4-3) have shown flashes early this season, but still lack consistency, shown the last time out when OSU lost to Minnesota 83-76 on Friday at the 2019 Final Four site of Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium.
Wednesday, OSU will attempt to bounce back and continue on its journey toward becoming a complete team when it takes on the Golden Hurricane inside the Don W. Reynolds Center at 7 p.m.
Waters, a Norman native, said he doesn’t remember too much of the game, but does realize the parallels between the two squads.
“We have just as many young guys as we did when we were freshmen so we expect that same thing out of them,” Waters said. “We are healthy and ready to play. … It helped our confidence as a whole then and showed our upperclassmen that we are here and ready to play. It just helped us throughout that whole season.”
To earn a victory, the Cowboys need to rebound better, Boynton said. In four of the team’s first seven contests, OSU has been outrebounded. Boynton said it is a combination of players like McGriff and freshman Yor Anei being beat down low or getting into foul trouble along with guards not helping out the posts on the glass.
“It is something we need to continue to make an emphasis, is you can’t run without the ball,” Boynton said. “We have enough athleticism and team speed that we can secure the ball and get down the court quickly. Plus, when you have a guard rebound then it is one less pass that we have to make.”
Anei, a 6-foot-10 product of Overland Park, Kansas, said he knows he has to have a better technique down low whether it is going for a rebound or blocking a shot.
“I like to block shots and trying to do that without fouling is difficult,” Anei said. “I try not to foul in practice and work on being more vertical.”
The Golden Hurricane (5-3) are coming off of a five-point loss to Utah and also played No. 6 Nevada close. Boynton said players to keep an eye on are point guard Sterling Taplin, who has good ball control and doesn’t make many mistakes along with forwards DaQuan Jeffries, an Edmond Sante Fe product, and Martins Igbanu, as the duo combine for 25 points and 11 rebounds a game.
Boynton likes the matchup, which will be the 112th meeting between the two programs all time, and says it is all part of the process for making his team a more well-rounded bunch.
“The schedule is put together for a reason,” Boynton said. “It is hard to go through it and lose to those guys this time of year, but we are playing the big picture here and want to be playing our best basketball once the calendar turns.”
The last visit to Tulsa proved to be big for the Cowboys’ learning curve and Boynton hopes Wednesday will be, as well.
“We have a bunch of young guys out there and we sometimes get overwhelmed in moments,” Boynton said. “Not overall, but I think we played well (at Minnesota). Youth, learning how to develop some consistency is a challenge and one we are trying to find our way through right now.”