by Dan Gardella
Brooklyn – When Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton sat down for his press conference, he asked for a bottle of water. He got a bottle of Poland Spring, which instantly brought him back to his roots.
“Poland Spring. I haven’t seen one of these in twenty years. I remember getting these every day at the newspaper stand.”
Boynton, a Brooklyn native, returned home as his Cowboys matched up with local favorite Syracuse in the second of two games in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Oklahoma State would need to beat the trademark 2-3 zone by Syracuse if they were to remain perfect on the young season.
Through foul trouble and transition buckets, Oklahoma State would handle Syracuse 86-72, giving Boynton a hometown hero’s treat.
Right off the tip, Oklahoma State put up the first 11 points and punched the Orange in the gut before they could realize what even happened. Not only was the defense struggling early, but Syracuse was held without a field goal for the first seven minutes of the game.
Defensively, Oklahoma State used full court pressure to slow down Syracuse and limit their perimeter game. The Orange, who are without Jalen Carey for the rest of the season, relied on starters Joe Girard (35 minutes), Buddy Boeheim (30 minutes), and Elijah Hughes (33 minutes), to carry the load offensively while fighting off fatigue.
Hughes was the go-to scorer for Syracuse, as he poured in a career-high 28 points on 8-15 shooting. If there was any chance of winning for the Orange, the redshirt-junior was going to lead the way.
However, Hughes and Girard, among others, were fighting foul trouble throughout the contest in a game that featured 44 fouls between the two teams.
“When Elijah got into foul trouble we really lost our offensive rhythm,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim.
Along with the foul trouble, the Orange could not get into a flow from three-point territory, along with at the free throw line. Syracuse shot just 25% from three and missed 11 free throws in a 14-point loss.
Beyond the arc, maintaining the young shooters on Syracuse was a top priority for Oklahoma State.
“We play a pressure defense. Regardless if it is a good shooting team or not, we are going to pressure them and give them no space. We did emphasize running the shooters off the line,” said Isaac Likekele, who lead Oklahoma State with a career-high 26 points.
Offensively for the Cowboys, the emphasis of attacking the zone and becoming “players, not passers” helped Oklahoma State build a double digit lead early and carrying it into halftime. In the second half, the same offensive consistency carried over while the Orange continued to struggle putting the ball in the basket.
There was plenty of Orange in the crowd, most of which were rooting for Syracuse, being the hometown favorite. Regardless, Boynton saw a game like this as an NCAA Tournament-type game for both teams.
“I thought that was an NCAA Tournament-type environment,” said Boyton. “It was a neutral site area, two teams from power conferences who don’t know a whole lot about each other at the moment. I’m really proud of the way our guys competed and followed the gameplan.”
Now, the Cowboys take on Ole Miss Friday night for a chance at a preseason tournament championship. Not a bad way to come home right?
“Not at all,” said Boynton.