STILLWATER — Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton gave his starting five the cold shoulder.
He was frustrated as he sent five different players to the scorer’s table to check in. Even more frustrated as he called a timeout just 113 seconds into the second half to make the lineup change.
“We were just being careless,” Boynton said.
Though the results still weren’t much better in terms of production, the message was sent. Boynton was not messing around.
Ultimately, neither were the Cowboys.
After the wake-up call, the Cowboys regained control. They extended their lead, too, putting away a team that has beaten power-six programs OU and Utah.
Urgency was certainly required.
“We can’t have that,” OSU junior Bryce Thompson said. “In the past, we’ve let teams get back into the groove of things and make it a game. I understand why Coach pulled us out.”
Thompson scored a game-high 17 points, had three assists and added two steals. The trio of Avery Anderson III, John-Michael Wright and Tyreek Smith scored 10 points apiece.
The Cowboys (6-3) avoided a two-game loss entering Sunday’s game in Brooklyn against Virginia Tech.
Here are three takeaways from the win:
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The importance of this game
Moussa Cisse and Thompson were both unaware of Sam Houston’s NCAA NET ranking entering the night.
Only after the win did Boynton point it out.
No. 7 in the nation.
“I’d like for them to be more aware,” Boynton said. “Well, it’s two-fold. I don’t if they know what it means. Some of us are probably still trying to figure out how you calculate it. But the truth is it’s relevant. It matters to what we’re trying to accomplish as a team.
“So, I do want them to have some awareness that this isn’t some team that’s ranked in the 300s. This is a game that if they continue to do well and as they turn into league play maybe it’ll drop into the 20s, but it’ll still be a very significant win for us as we move forward.”
Boynton showed more urgency.
And even if the players were unaware of the national standing of Sam Houston to this point, they played with more purpose.
“We gotta build,” Cisse said. “We’ve been losing easy games. I feel like we’ve figured out how to play with each other.”
A loss would have put OSU’s March Madness hopes in peril.
The Cowboys entered the day at No. 73 in the NET rankings and on the outside of most NCAA Tournament projections.
But this win is perhaps the first step to redemption.
“They’re all must wins for me,” Boynton said. “But it’s a game there’s value there. A win is significant.”
Bryce’s big night shows growth
Thompson is a different player from a year ago.
He’s more comfortable shooting the basketball. He’s improved as a passer. And defense has become more important.
“It’s just being a total player,” Thompson said.
The improvements led to perhaps his best all-around half of his OSU career.
The guard from Tulsa Booker T. Washington scored 15 first-half points, making 5 of 8 shots. He also had an assist.
He scored or assisted on 14 of OSU’s first 16 points.
Thompson also finished the night 4 of 6 from 3-point range, his second game in the past four to finish with four made treys.
But his defense also stood out.
Thompson was locked in on that end, showing his growth from when he arrived more than a year ago.
“He’s a different player from a defensive standpoint from the time we got him,” Boynton said. “I think I was trying to teach him how to spell the word when he first got here last year. I think he thought it started with an ‘O.’
“But, no, he’s bought in. He’s coachable.”
Cowboys survive slow start to second half
OSU’s slow start to the second half is indicative of the first eight games this season.
For an extended stretch of each game, the Cowboys get out of character. But this time, they weathered the storm.
OSU led by 12 at halftime but did not score for nearly 6 minutes in the opening half. Boynton made the lineup change early in that span after a plethora of turnovers.
By the time OSU scored, it had committed eight turnovers and just three shot attempts.
But the Cowboys settled down after Caleb Asberry made two foul shots and Wright made a 3-pointer nearly 2 minutes later, starting a 7-0 run.
OSU led by as much as 19 down the stretch, making 11 of 18 shots in the half as it slowed things down against a stout Bearkats defense.
It was a sign of growth.
The whole second half was.
Boynton noticed that after he elected not to talk to his starting five following the lineup change. He heard them talking about what needed to improve.
That was encouraging.
“I walked past them and heard them talking to each other about playing better and taking ownership of their play,” Boynton said. “When they all got back in there, we were able to settle things down and put ourselves in a great position.”
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma State Cowboys beat Sam Houston Bearkats men's basketball