STILLWATER — Former and should be Hall of Fame basketball coach Eddie Sutton used the say the greatest motivator in basketball, in sports, is the bench. “Those guys don’t want to be sitting over there by me,” said the Cowboy legend. Saturday against second-ranked Baylor, Mike Boynton tried it out starting freshmen Kalib Boone at the post over Yor Anei and Avery Anderson over senior Thomas Dziagwa. It had it’s impact on Anei and Dziagwa and also on another senior who started, but maybe thought the changes could creep his way. Cam McGriff had a first half that players dream of.
However, we can’t bury the lead. What could have been an Oklahoma State runaway, and was at several points in the game into the second half, became a Big 12 grinder in the end. Devante Bandoo hit a bundle of threes for Baylor and the Bears grabbed a lead in the final five minutes. From that point it was a seesaw affair with Bandoo and Davion Mitchell hitting baskets. Oklahoma State had a good shot under a minute down by two, but missed on a drive to the basket. Baylor’s MaCio Teague hit a pair of free throws to go up 70-66. Isaac Likekele drove and hit a reverse layup with 27.5 seconds left and the score 70-68 Bears.
What could have been a Saturday to remember became another loss. The Cowboys couldn’t convert on offense and had to foul again, Baylor missed leaving the door open but underneath Yor Anei lost the rebound, Baylor converted the free throws and won the game 75-68.
“I don’t want to ignore the obvious. Losing is not fun. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable and nobody wants to lose,” Boynton said after the game. “I don’t want to be unfair to our fans and tell them that they should accept losing, but I am as proud of my team today as I have been at any point in the season because of the way we played. We’re close.”
The Cowboys drop to 9-8 and 0-5 in the Big 12. Baylor goes to 15-1 and 5-0 in the conference.
McGriff, the senior forward that came in averaging just 9.6 points and 6.7 rebounds a game and shrinking fired up four made threes and 14 points to pace the Pokes to a 36-27 first half advantage over the highly-touted Bears.
When Dziagwa and Anei got in and it wasn’t long for them over there next to Boynton, Pastrana, Sutton and company; Dziagwa hit a three, one of three he hit in the first half and Anei on a feed inside by Isaac Likekele came down the right side of the lane and slammed it home, one of two baskets for the big man in the first half.
But it was McGriff, who may have felt threatened, hit a three from the left baseline corner with 9:24 in the half for an 18-11 lead. The next trey came from the right wing and put the Pokes up 23-16.
“I got the same vibes in that we have at the start of the game,” Likekele said. “We know Coach B is just trying to do whatever he can to put us in the best position to win, whether that is Yor coming off the bench, Dziagwa coming off the bench. It doesn’t matter.Whether it was Cam not starting or whatever then we’re going to do what we can.”
“We’re finding our groove to win basketball games and we still aren’t there,” McGriff said. “We are going to do whatever it takes to get there. We were in a better place than we were against Texas in our last home game.”
The most impressive swing was back on the right wing and a 30-22 advantage. Baylor was working back into it and had woke up from what had been a sleepy start for the Bears. Seconds later with 2:03 on the clock there was McGriff from the same spot knocking down virtually the same shot for a 33-24 lead. The crowd that I’d estimate at 5,500 was going nuts. Fans falling all over each other and the Cowboys on the bench doing the same thing with Kalib and Keylan Boone showing the most emotion.
It seemed the ugly shooting the Cowboys had suffered was caught by the Bears almost like the flu. The Cowboys shot 43 percent from the field and 57 percent 8-of-14 from three point range. Baylor 35 percent from the field and 17 percent from three-point range.
The trouble was in the second half McGriff had just two points to finish with 16. Dziagwa had 14, Waters, 14, Likekele 16, and Anei with a solid eight. It just wasn’t enough, leaving Boynton to wonder if the other reason you bench players, to speed up the future, might be the reason he juggles the line-up next Tuesday at Iowa State.
“I think it is those seniors don’t have many more opportunities,” Boynton said. “They start thinking about it and there is more urgency.”