STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Last year, with a very limited bench, Oklahoma State probably would have lost this game.
After squandering a 14-point lead midway through the second half, Oklahoma State, led by Isaac Likekele’s 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists, held on for an 80-75 victory over Oral Roberts on Wednesday in the season-opener for both teams.
Lindy Waters added 15 points and six rebounds while Yor Anei contributed 13 points, 10 boards and eight blocks for the Cowboys, who won their 44th consecutive home opener.
“Last year, we lost a lot of games due to one or two plays and the five guys that were in at the end were the guys that were in at the end of games last year,” Likekele said of Oklahoma State’s returning starters (including Waters and Anei). “We’re just trying to find ways to make those changes that actually gets us the result of winning instead of losing. Last year, I felt like all the mistakes and experience that we got, we learned from it.”
While OSU coach Mike Boynton wasn’t thrilled with how they let a big lead slip away, he believes that competing in close games in the final minutes will only help his team when Big 12 Conference play begins.
“I’m sure our fans won’t like to see us play these possession games over the next two months, but I want as many of these, if we’re going to win them, as we can have,” said Boynton, whose team was 5-13 in the Big 12 and 12-20 overall last season. “I want to see these competitive battles. I want to have these situations come up that we can learn from now.”
Deondre Burns scored 21 points to lead ORU, which made a late charge to get within one with 1:13 remaining. Emmanuel Nzekwesi scored 16 points – 14 in the second half – and added 13 rebounds for the Golden Eagles.
“We are disappointed in the outcome of this game, but I’m proud of my guys,” said Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills. “Down at the half, and down nine with nine to play, I told the guys, it’s our job to hit singles, not home runs. I thought we eventually chipped away and got better.”
Oklahoma State led 39-30 at halftime, and after Thomas Dziagwa’s 3-pointer with 9:59 remaining, enjoyed a 58-44 advantage. But Oral Roberts kept fighting back, with Burns’ pull-up 10-foot jump shot with 2:40 to go capping off a 16-5 run and getting the Eagles to within 68-67. The teams were neck and neck down the stretch, with ORU pulling to within one at 70-69 and 72-71 before several free throws in the final minute sealed it for Oklahoma State.
“We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds,” Likekele said. “I don’t want to discredit them at all, but it’s a lot of things we did ourselves that changed it from a 14-point game, instead of going up to 20, only being up six. We had mental breakdowns that we got to fix.”
Oral Roberts: It wasn’t supposed to be that close. After trailing by at least five points, and usually eight or more, for most of the night, the Golden Eagles kept battling back. It started with their defense through the middle of the second half, as Oklahoma State missed 10 consecutive shots during a 10-1 Eagles run that brought them to within 51-44 with 11:17 remaining.
Oklahoma State: With all five of their starters returning from last season, it seems strange to look at this as a new Oklahoma State squad, but virtually the entire bench is comprised of newcomers, and they looked pretty good for the most part. Freshman Keylan Boone led the OSU bench, scoring 11 points in just 10 minutes of action in his NCAA debut, while Avery Anderson had five points in his first game. Overall, the Cowboys looked like much more of a team than they did last season, when they used just seven players on most nights.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
After they had just three free throw attempts in the first half (1-for-3), ORU went to the line 23 times in the second half, shooting 19-for-23 for an overall percentage of 76.9% (20 of 26). Oklahoma State was 10-of-13 in the first half and 16-of-21 in the second (76.5 percent on 26-of-34 overall). After 16 total attempts in the first, there were 44 in the second.
HE SAID IT
“We obviously are making progress,” Boynton said. “We still have a ways to go, in terms of sustaining our competitive focus, I would call it. I think we showed flashes at times, that we can be pretty electric in transition and execute pretty well, but we just aren’t doing it consistently.”
Oral Roberts: The Golden Eagles are back home in Tulsa on Friday for their Homecoming game, taking on Houston Baptist.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys play at home on Saturday against Kansas City, a team from the WAC that was 11-21 last year.