'An Achilles' heel for us': OSU's defense shows potential, offense struggles in loss to Kansas
STILLWATER — For 9 minutes and 48 seconds, Oklahoma State looked nearly unbeatable.
Kansas — the sixth-ranked team in the country — was lost offensively against OSU’s speed. The Jayhawks did not score. They missed 20 straight shots.
A 14-point deficit turned into a brief two-point lead with nearly 20 minutes remaining.
This is what the Cowboys are capable of on any given night.
“It just shows our potential,” OSU wing Keylan Boone said.
But Boone continued.
“We have to be more dialed in the beginning so we don’t have to look for answers late in the game,” Boone said. “That’s where our problem is.”
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Kansas exploited that.
Potential in the Big 12 does not always make the difference.
On a night the Cowboys wowed with a first-half defensive performance rarely seen following an involuntary 17-day break due to COVID-19, they still fell short in a 74-63 loss to the Jayhawks to open Big 12 play late Tuesday night inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
OSU is now 7-5 overall heading into Saturday’s matchup with No. 14-ranked Texas. The Cowboys have lost four of their past five games.
The up-and-down tendency of the team remains in full effect.
The Cowboys held Kansas to 26.8% shooting in the opening half, but the Jayhawks shot 70.8% in the second half.
And during the stretch of 17 straight stops from the 9:12 mark in the first half until the 19:24 mark in the second half, OSU’s offense never really did enough.
It took that span to score 16 points. OSU made just 7 of 19 shots after missing 11 of 12 before clamping down defensively.
“At home, if you get 17 straight stops, you probably should be up six, eight, 10 points,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “We just didn’t make enough open shots. They made tough shots. We missed open shots and that was the difference in the game.”
It’s the difference in the season to this point.
Shooting woes have plagued the squad.
“Shot making continues to be an Achilles’ heel for us,” Boynton said, “and we’ve gotta figure out a way to do better there.”
The Cowboys have shown glimpses of potential offensively.
Veteran leader Isaac Likekele was more aggressive than usual, scoring 16 points on 15 shots, tying a career high in attempts. He had 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block.
He attacked, attacked and attacked some more.
That opened things up for other shooters. But OSU did not capitalize.
“It was very pleasing to see him be more aggressive and take more opportunities looking for his shot,” Boynton said. “Now, we gotta guys when he kicks it out to be ready and step up and knock those down. That’ll create a little bit more dynamic effect for us.”
Seven-foot center Moussa Cisse returned for the first time since Dec. 13. He missed the Houston game due to a death in his family.
He changed the game defensively in the first half.
Kansas coach Bill Self removed big man David McCormack from the starting five ahead of the game, but McCormack still dominated off the bench. He struggled with Cisse in the first half, especially during the scoreless stretch.
But McCormack adjusted in the second half, hitting shots over Cisse to finish with 17 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
“You see his presence,” Boynton said about Cisse. “It’s part of the reason we thought he could have great value for us. Again, you gotta give credit to the other team. David McCormack made some tough shots with a guy chest-to-chest with his hands up.
“But I thought Moussa battled. And for a kid who’s basically been gone from our team for the better part of three weeks, it was good to see his energy be right.”
When McCormack took over, the Cowboys fell behind by 12 again right about the 9-minute mark like the first half. This time, they did not have enough to overcome the deficit.
OSU got within six with 6:13 remaining, but Kansas scored nine straight points.
The Cowboys appeared out of gas at times, too, following the layoff and COVID-19 issues. But they won’t make excuses.
This was a chance to get every part moving in the same direction to start out conference play with an upset.
“It was a lack of maturity on our end,” Likekele said. “We started out the second half pretty good but it got to a point where they knew they needed stops in order to win the game. They buckled down, they got stops. We didn’t buckle down and get stops. Then, they were just being players. They made a lot of shots.
“They were just the tougher team in the second half. That’s why they’re such a great program. Credit to Coach Self and them, but I definitely think that was a game we should have won.”
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.