Cameron McGriff has shared tales of the Phog with his younger teammates, but it isn’t easy to prepare them for the raucous environment.
One season ago, McGriff thrived in Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. He scored 20 points, then a career high, as the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team defeated Kansas 84-79.
The Cowboys will return to Allen Fieldhouse to face the No. 13 Jayhawks at 11 a.m. Saturday. McGriff, a junior forward and team captain, said he told freshmen Isaac Likekele and Yor Anei about the ambience in KU’s legendary arena.
“At that age, it’s easy to get rattled a little bit, but I think they’re ready for it,” McGriff said. “They’ve definitely proved that they can definitely play at a high level on the road.”
OSU dropped a 70-68 road game to TCU on Wednesday, but Likekele and Anei contributed to a comeback that nearly resulted in a victory for the Cowboys. Anei led OSU with 20 points, and Likekele followed with 17.
As two of seven Cowboys who competed against the Horned Frogs, Anei and Likekele stayed on the court for most of the game. Anei played 32 minutes, and Likekele played 39.
Despite their tenacity, the Cowboys (9-13 overall, 2-7 Big 12) extended their conference losing streak to five. After staying in Fort Worth, Texas, on Wednesday night because of icy weather, they traveled back to Stillwater on Thursday and quickly switched their focus to KU.
Mike Boynton, OSU’s coach, said though he doesn’t know whether anyone can prepare for the atmosphere in Allen Fieldhouse, he tried to give his team a glimpse of rowdy environments like KU’s with the nonconference schedule he built.
OSU fell to Nebraska on Dec. 16 in the Sanford Pentagon, a historic arena in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The venue had an intense atmosphere, but it seated 3,250 fans.
Allen Fieldhouse has a capacity of 16,300.
“Coach (Boynton), he plans every game as a big game, whether you’re playing in front of 4,000 or 16,000,” Likekele said.
The Jayhawks (17-6, 6-4), like the Cowboys, have dealt with recent roster issues. The NCAA declared on Feb. 1 that Silvio DeSousa, a KU sophomore forward, is ineligible to play for the rest of this season and next season. Lagerald Vick, a senior guard for the Jayhawks, left the team Thursday for personal reasons, and it’s unknown if he will return.
Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor are ahead of usual champion KU in the Big 12 standings.
Boynton isn’t comparing the Jayhawks’ challenges to the struggles of his Cowboys, who have seven available scholarship players.
“I don’t feel anything like (KU coach) Bill Self,” Boynton said. “They’ve got, obviously, still a lot of talented dudes over there, and it takes time.”
Dedric Lawson, a KU redshirt junior forward, averages 19.4 points and 10.8 rebounds. The Jayhawks lost a road game to the Wildcats on Tuesday, but they are 13-0 in Allen Fieldhouse.
These words appear on a banner in the arena, which is named for former Jayhawk coach Forrest “Phog” Allen: “Pay Heed, All Who Enter: BEWARE OF ‘THE PHOG.’”
As McGriff anticipated his next journey into the Phog, he recalled the focused mentality that allowed him to have success there Feb. 3, 2018.
“Going into that game, I knew what type of environment I was going into,” McGriff said. “I had been preparing for games like that all season, and I think I just executed well, played hard.”