College basketball: Oklahoma State seeks next step under Boynton after beating Kansas twice, making NIT
Mike Boynton wasn’t a self promoter. He wasn’t a national name.
When Brad Underwood left Oklahoma State after one season to go to Illinois, Oklahoma State didn’t look far. Boynton had timing on his side.
But he had to prove it wasn't a gamble. Oklahoma State went with Boynton, a name known within the coaching circles but not common in the mainstream college basketball narrative.
“People should have been skeptical,’’ Boynton said. “People didn’t know me. I’m not a guy who makes it about me. I’ve always tried to make it about the program and the guy I was working for to make sure he was as successful as he could be. It still isn’t about me. It’s about this program and the unbelievable rich tradition here.’’
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“There is an opportunity to re-establish the great passion with our fans,’’ said Boynton. “We’re working extremely hard at it and that’s what they deserve: the people in the state of Oklahoma and all the former Cowboys. It’s a blue collar town and state and they appreciate the effort our kids give. The mission of our program is to hang another banner at Gallagher-Iba Arena.’’
In year one, beating Kansas, not just once, but twice, including in Lawrence last season is a significant accomplishment, regardless of who is coaching.
Boynton did it.
“I’m not naive, I know that was a big deal,’’ Boynton said. “It’s not like we threw up a shot at the buzzer (in Lawrence). We led. We do have an idea of what we’re doing….We were coming off a three-game losing streak and that showed we had resiliency and the ability to block out the noise. The first thing you have to do if you’re going to beat Kansas is believe you can win.’’
The Cowboys didn’t make the NCAA tournament last March despite the Kansas wins, a win over Florida State (an eventual Elite Eight team), a win at West Virginia, over Texas Tech (another Elite Eight team) and two over Oklahoma.
“I thought we had done enough,’’ said Boynton. “I felt badly for our guys.’’
The Cowboys made the NIT, losing to Western Kentucky in a quarterfinal.
Boynton hasn’t let his players forget what happened throughout the 10 practices the Cowboys have had this summer to prep for the 10-day trip to Italy and Greece Aug. 4-14.
“We talk about it everyday,’’ Boynton said.
Boynton said it was easy to cast Oklahoma State aside last season after Lamont Evans was fired due to the FBI investigation. But this team was unaffected and Boynton made a significant move in October by hiring former Cowboy Scott Sutton, son of legendary former OSU coach Eddie Sutton and the former head coach of Oral Roberts, to his staff. That gave him two former head coaches on his staff in Sutton and John Cooper.
Making the right hires ultimately can be critically important to the growth of a head coach.
“It was unfortunate to make a coaching change at that time of the year but I couldn’t have been more fortunate to have someone of (Scott Sutton) his pedigree and his ability who is so well respected,’’ said Boynton. “I’ve got him and John Cooper, two tremendous guys who have been head coaches who can help me learn and grow in this position. I want to keep them here as long as I can.’’
To do that he needs to keep winning of course and challenging his team.
He’s got the pieces to once again be a pest in the loaded, balanced Big 12.
Cameron McGriff is back after he put up 20 points and 10 rebounds in the win at Kansas. Lindy Waters is stepping into a leadership role. Michael Weathers is a transfer from Miami of Ohio after being the MAC freshman of the year. Curtis Jones will be eligible at mid-semester after transfer from Indiana and can go on the trip to Europe. And the hidden gem could be freshman guard Isaac Likekele.
Boynton said McGriff has accepted the leadership tag that he will need, Weathers will “open a lot of eyes with his athleticism and passing ability and will lead the team in free-throw attempts because of his aggressive drives to the basket,’’ Waters will be one of their most versatile players and Likekele is a winner, who will impact the team.
Oh, and about the NCAA tournament in 2019? The Cowboys will make it if they earn it of course, not because they didn’t play a tough schedule.
The Cowboys are an ESPN Events tournament in Orlando against Memphis with the possibility of playing Villanova in round two. Florida State and LSU are on the other side and both could/should be NCAA teams. Boynton signed up to play against Minnesota (which should be back in the mix in the top tier of the Big Ten) at U.S. Bank Stadium (site of the Final Four), at Tulsa (sleeper in the AAC), Houston at home (a contender again in the AAC), and agreed to take on Big Ten title contender Nebraska in Sioux Falls, S.D. And the SEC-Big 12 Challenge game is against South Carolina Jan. 26 in Stillwater, a Gamecocks team that should be back in postseason contention with Chris Silva returning.
“If we don’t make it, it’s going to be something else, not about our schedule,’’ said Boynton. “We’ve got a lot of opportunities to get quality wins.’’
Of course, all of those games wrap around the Big 12, where chances for quality wins are plentiful.
“It’s a great challenge for a young team,’’ said Boynton. “It’s a bit risky, but I want them to be prepared to compete in the Big 12.’’
Risk. That was a fair criticism when Boynton was tabbed as the head coach. But he has so far built up equity within Oklahoma State and validated his hire. There is still plenty of work to do, but he has this program seemingly heading in the right direction.