Cowboys hold on through second half to claim first Big 12 victory this season

MBB OSUvTCU

Thomas Dziagwa dribbles during the Oklahoma State vs. TCU men's basketball game on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater.

Isaac Likekele dribbled the basketball and then tossed it up toward the rafters in Gallagher-Iba Arena as the time expired.

The Oklahoma State men’s basketball team had a long downhill slide in conference play, but on Wednesday night, there was an upside. OSU pushed past TCU 72-57 for its first Big 12 victory this season, breaking an eight-game conference losing streak.

Likekele, a sophomore point guard who led the Cowboys with 15 points and 11 assists (his first career double-double), said their effort in the second half made a difference.

“Today, we started off slow in the second half a little bit, but we learned from our previous mistakes,” Likekele said. “And so we were able to catch ourselves and amp it up. Due to our hard work, we were able to finish off the game.”

OSU (11-11 overall, 1-8 Big 12) led 36-30 at halftime, but the Horned Frogs entered the second half with high energy.

After TCU’s Kevin Samuel made a dunk to trim the Cowboys’ lead to 38-35 with 18:45 left, OSU coach Mike Boynton called timeout. In danger of losing a ninth straight Big 12 game, the Cowboys motivated one another during the break to prevent a collapse.

“We were just like, ‘We’ve been here before,’” Likekele said. “We’ve made those mistakes. Let’s learn from it, right here, right now, it’s gonna be fine.”

A turnaround didn’t happen immediately. RJ Nembhard sank a free throw to give TCU a 43-40 lead, their largest of the night, with 14:17 left, but the Cowboys were soon able to shake off the Frogs (13-9, 4-5).

OSU was ahead 47-45 when Kalib Boone, a Cowboy freshman forward, catalyzed a 12-0 run with a second-chance basket. Senior guard Thomas Dziagwa splashed a 3-pointer through the net, injecting enthusiasm into the small crowd. Boone and Dziagwa each made another shot before sophomore big man Yor Anei capped the run with a dunk off a Likekele assist.

Dziagwa said he thought it was great how Boone entered the game off the bench to boost the Cowboys.

“We pride ourselves as a unit, when one guy steps down and another guy comes in, that they are gonna provide a spark and up the ante,” Dziagwa said. “The tempo and the competitive spirit, within the game, they up it.”

The Cowboys had to overcome adversity because of injuries. Lindy Waters III, a senior guard who had started every game this season and his junior season, couldn’t play because he had a facial fracture near his sinus area as a result of getting elbowed during the Bedlam game Saturday. In his place, freshman guard Chris Harris Jr. started for the third time this season, but he went down in the first half with a lower left leg injury and didn’t return.

Freshman guard Avery Anderson III didn’t play because he had fallen in practice about a week and a half before the game, Boynton said, though Anderson’s lower back is structurally OK.

Although OSU had a limited roster, the Cowboys on the sideline contributed to the victory.

“Basically, everybody who wasn’t playing was engaged from a verbal standpoint, what they saw on the court and how they could help their teammates,” Boynton said. “And the guys on the court were taking ownership of the mistakes that were happening. Once those two things begin, you’ve got a chance to really build.”

OSU shot 24-for-56 (42.9%) from the field and held the Horned Frogs to 20-of-54 (37%) field-goal shooting. Dziagwa and Anei finished with 14 points each, and senior forward Cameron McGriff added 10.

Dziagwa said the postgame atmosphere in the locker room was positive, but the Cowboys aren’t letting themselves dwell on one win. A matchup against No. 1 Baylor looms ahead, and OSU is still focused on troubleshooting and improving.

“Make no mistake, we’re all about the process,” Dziagwa said. “We feel like this is the first domino that’s going to trickle off to some more, but the process is what led us to this W.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com