Mike Boynton had a long bus ride back to Stillwater after Oklahoma State’s loss at Texas.
He usually talks to all of his players after a game, but it was Christmas. He let his players go back home, wanting them to get away for a few days, enjoy their families and decompress.
Except there was one player he couldn’t help but call: junior guard Isaac Likekele, who was headed home to Dallas.
“I called him that night and told him what I think, what I feel,” Boynton said. “We’ve got a really good relationship. I’m (always) honest with him. I told him, if we’re gonna have a chance to be successful, he’s gotta be more aggressive. He doesn’t have to make more shots necessarily. But it’s the way he approaches both ends of the court.”
OSU’s longest-tenured player, Likekele had a solid start to the season. But Boynton wanted him to be better. The team, who started 0-2 in the Big 12, needed him to be.
Before today’s 82-77 victory against No. 13 Texas Tech, Likekele ranked fifth on the team in shot attempts. Not good enough for the team’s most experienced and second best player.
Against the Red Raiders, Likekele made that adjustment. He led the team in scoring with 17 points and 14 shot attempts.
“We weren’t sure he’d be first, but I’ll take him being first,” Boynton said. “If teams are gonna put their best defender on Cade (Cunningham), it means they’re putting their second best defender on the guy who has proven to be a big time contributor.”
When Cunningham fouled out of the game in overtime, Likekele knew the offense would run through him.
OSU initiated most offense out of Likekele in the low post, where he would either use his strength to turn and score over his defender, or show off his passing instincts and find the open man. If they started him above the arc, he would will his way into the lane.
Although OSU got contributions from multiple places in overtime, Likekele was the engine that started it all, allowing the Cowboys to pull away.
“I just try to go out here and do what the team wants me to do,” Likekele said. “Over break we had heavy conversations and they needed me to change up what I was doing. So I just tried to come out here and be different.”