Mike Boynton didn’t care that Tuesday marked only the second win in Big 12 play for his Oklahoma State team in 11 tries. He didn’t care that it came against the team directly ahead of his — Kansas State — in the 10-team league. After the struggles Boynton and the Cowboys have endured the past two seasons, he’ll take what he can get.
Boynton also admitted that Tuesday’s 64-59 victory over the Wildcats at Bramlage Coliseum meant a bit more given his previous visit to Manhattan. That day, Feb. 23 of last year, K-State obliterated Oklahoma State 85-46, the largest margin of victory in the history of the series and the second-worst loss in the Cowboys’ annals.
“I came into this place last year and was down 25 with 10 minutes to go in the first half,” Boynton said after Tuesday’s win. “That stuck in my mind. One of my most embarrassing basketball experiences of my life.”
That’s why Tuesday’s win meant so much.
“I feel like I’ve exorcised some demons,” said Boynton, alluding to last season’s game in which the Wildcats scored the first 15 points before the Cowboys ever got on the board. “But man, it sure feels good to eke out one. I don’t care if it was by one point at the buzzer today. To be able to put (last season’s loss at Bramlage) outside of my mind — I joked with some of my staff this week that I’m a pretty faithful person, and I told them if I’m lucky enough to get to have it, I’m going to ask the good Lord, ‘Back in 2019, you sent me to Manhattan, Kan. Explain that one to me.’”
Boynton noted the respect he’s always had for both K-State’s program as a whole as well as his admiration for head coach Bruce Weber. But this year’s Wildcats are a far cry from the Big 12 regular-season co-champions of last year — they’ve gone from first to worst. Last season’s team, Boynton recalled, was “really, really good” as well as his preseason pick to win the league. He believed they would have gone “a little bit further” in the NCAA Tournament if star senior forward Dean Wade hadn’t been sidelined with a foot injury. (K-State, a 4-seed, lost in the first round to 13-seed UC-Irvine.)
Now, with Tuesday’s loss, the Wildcats are 2-9 in the league and tied for last alongside the Cowboys.
K-State’s year-over-year change in fortunes didn’t necessarily surprise Boynton.
“Naturally, you think (Kansas State) would take a step back. They lost like 5,000 points or something like that from last year’s team. I don’t know what the total is between the three of those guys, (but) that’s a lot to try to replace,” said Boynton, referring to the senior trio of Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes. “They’re playing some younger guys who just haven’t had the experience of being at the top of scouting reports and being guys that are counted on every night to produce. Naturally, it’s been an adjustment period.”
Boynton also pointed out that the Wildcats’ lack of success in the conference isn’t entirely on them; games aren’t played in a vacuum, after all.
“It’s a really hard league. It’s a really hard league,” Boynton said. “You can play well and lose in this league. I’ve been in six conferences and I’m not sure I’ve been in one quite like this, where you can play well and still lose. We played well against Baylor at home and we lost by seven points.”
While Boynton’s postgame press conference was joyful and relaxed, Weber’s was tense — and at the end, combative. Weber accused reporters of being “totally wrong” and taking comments he made Monday about his coaching approach “totally out of context.”
At the time, he said he no longer would coddle his players.
“You do run out of motivational speeches. It’s tough. I’ll keep trying,” Weber said Monday. “I told them (Sunday), ‘I’m going to keep coaching.’ I’ve decided I’m going to coach them harder now, to be honest. For a while there, I was trying to be, ‘Oh, you’re OK, we’re fine,’ and give hugs and kisses and all of that stuff. I literally have kissed some guys in practice just trying to make them feel good. Now I’m going to coach them hard. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it. I’m going to try and do it the way I know and the way I think you can be successful.”
Following Tuesday’s loss, Weber said that his previous comments meant that he would “continue coaching them hard,” with “continue” being the key term.
“When you go three games in six days and you lose tough ones, as a coach, you back down a little bit. You try to keep them positive and feel good energy, hug them, kiss them, make them come back,” he said. “What I told you (Monday) — we came back and Sunday watched film. I said, ‘This is the truth, guys. We’ve got to get better. We can’t keep doing these things if we’re going to make progress.’ That’s all I was saying.”
Putting aside K-State’s frustrations this season, Boynton said he still had the “utmost respect” for Weber and the program, the way the coaching staff challenges players to get better. Boynton believes the Wildcats will be back in the mix for conference titles soon enough.
It just will take time.
“They’re really, really good defensively,” Boynton said. “Again, we’re lucky to come out with a win. We played well, but it very easily could’ve been reversed.”