The winner finished ninth.
The Oklahoma State men’s basketball team defied preseason expectations and avoided last place in its conference with an 85-77 victory against West Virginia on Saturday afternoon in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Coach Mike Boynton’s Cowboys (12-19 overall, 5-13 Big 12) were 10th in the Big 12 preseason power rankings. Despite a season scarred with difficulties resulting from player dismissals, they finished one spot ahead of the Mountaineers.
“There’s kind of some validation in the work that they’ve put in,” Boynton said.
Lindy Waters III, a junior guard, said the Cowboys weren’t focused on the standings.
“All of that stuff on the outside doesn't really mean anything because at the end of the day, it's just us in the locker room,” Waters said.
Although the Cowboys have seven available scholarship players, they had balanced offense against WVU (12-19, 4-14). Thomas Dziagwa, Cameron McGriff, Yor Anei, Lindy Waters III and Curtis Jones scored in double digits.
OSU led 49-41 at halftime with its highest first-half score this season and three more points than it had in a road loss to Kansas State on Feb. 23.
“We have trust in each other,” Waters said. “We watch each other every single day get shots up. The chemistry of everything we've been through, the trust and the brotherhood that we've made, it shows on the stat sheet.”
After struggles in a freshman-led road victory against Baylor on Wednesday, OSU’s three captains were revitalized. Waters finished with a game-high 19 points and shot 7-for-11 from the field.
Cameron McGriff, a junior forward, had 14 points, including a monstrous putback dunk to give the Cowboys a 27-19 lead with 9:08 left in the first half.
Junior guard Thomas Dziagwa had 15 points and reached a milestone. With 4:02 left in the first half, Dziagwa hit his 100th 3-pointer this season.
The Mountaineers surged back in the second half and tied OSU at 66 when junior guard Jermaine Haley made a layup with 8:59 left, but Dziagwa’s fast-break layup under the basket prevented WVU from taking the lead.
The Cowboy freshmen maintained their energy from the victory against Baylor. Forward Yor Anei, who had 16 points, set an OSU freshman record with eight blocks.
“I think it gets the crowd excited, and then that transfers to us and gets us excited too,” Anei said.
He surpassed Byron Houston, who blocked six shots in two games during the 1988-89 season.
Isaac Likekele, the Cowboys’ starting point guard, finished with a career-high nine assists.
Although Likekele had eight points, Waters credited him for igniting the Cowboys’ offense.
“Isaac did a great job pushing the ball in transition,” Waters said. “We're really unselfish. If we don't have a good shot and someone else has a better shot, we swing it.”
OSU capped an adversity-filled season, which included an eight-game conference losing streak, with two Big 12 victories. As the Cowboys prepare for the Big 12 Tournament, Boynton values each player’s role.
“We know we’re a team that has to play well as a unit,” Boynton said. “The whole is better than the parts in a lot of ways."