During stretches of Tuesday night’s game at Bramlage Coliseum, Kansas State and Oklahoma State looked like stellar squads. The ball moving crisply, shots falling — an exemplary example of error-free basketball.
Those brief moments in time found themselves outnumbered — far outnumbered — by long periods without scoring. Turnovers and missed shots aplenty. It was what one would expect to see from the two teams at the bottom of the Big 12; the pair entered the night occupying the ninth and 10th positions in the 10-team league.
The Cowboys ultimately proved to be slightly better, leaning on a 51.2% effort from the field and a bounce-back performance from sophomore forward Yor Anei to drop K-State 64-59.
In Anei’s last game, he didn’t score a point or grab a rebound in Oklahoma State’s 78-70 loss at top-ranked Baylor on Saturday. He turned that around Tuesday, powering the Cowboys with a team-high 15 points to go along with five rebounds.
“I thought he was really good,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. “Yor’s had an up-and-down year for us. I think against Baylor he played eight minutes, had five fouls and four turnovers, didn’t score or grab a rebound. When that happens, we’re probably not going to have much success. But when he plays the way he does tonight — his coach probably needs to draw up more 3-point plays for him. So he was really, really effective, especially around the basket and rebounding.”
Boynton then expanded upon the outsized importance Anei plays for the Cowboys. On a team with no player averaging more than a dozen points per game — Isaac Likekele tops the charts at 11.6 a contest — anything Anei can give is a plus.
“We don’t have a guy who’s going to get 25 points a game. We’re a collection of guys who have to put it all together as a group in order to have success,” Boynton said. “He’s a big, big piece of that puzzle for us, not only from his scoring — obviously his numbers are good offensively and he only blocked one shot — but I would say that he forced some guys to change their shots around the rim because of his activity on the defensive end.”
Bruce Weber couldn’t heap enough praise upon the 6-foot-11, 215-pound Anei. The Overland Park native did what he wanted, whenever he wanted, against the Wildcats (9-15, 2-9 Big 12) Tuesday.
“He was great. He punked us inside,” said Weber, lamenting that in addition to Likelele, his team also held Lindy Waters and Thomas Dziagwa — players the Cowboys regularly count on for consistent point production — in check. “Those are the guys who have been their scorers. (Jonathan) Laurent kills us and big fella (Anei) kills us. You’ve got to give them credit. They executed and got it to the spots and took advantage of us.”
Those types of candid descriptors — aside from Weber’s use of “punked,” both him and the game’s leading scorer, Mike McGuirl (16 points) noted on multiple occasions that the Cowboys “bullied” the Wildcats — weren’t in short supply afterward.
“They executed. They got it to the right people. They made all the right plays,” said Weber, referring to Oklahoma State. “When you don’t get stops, now you’ve got to be perfect on offense. We had some decent possessions in the second half, but just not consistent enough.”
K-State lost despite committing seven fewer turnovers (18 to 11), attempting 13 more shots (56 to 43) and making more 3-pointers (seven to five) than the visitors. But Oklahoma State (12-12, 2-9) was far more effective offensively, hitting 51.2% (22-for-43) of its shots compared to 35.7% (20 of 56) for K-State.
The Cowboys’ offense improved by leaps and bounds after halftime. In the first half, they went 9-for-27 (33.3%) from the field. After the break, they made a staggering 81.3% (13 of 16) of their attempts.
Only one of Oklahoma State’s second-half makes came from beyond the 3-point line.
That’s because Boynton said his team “made a really conscious effort” of getting the ball inside as often as possible. Tuesday wasn’t a one-off occurrence in that regard. Last season, Dziagwa and Waters were two of the best 3-point shooters in the Big 12. But the Cowboys entered Tuesday tied for last in the league — alongside West Virginia — in 3-point shooting percentage at 30.3. They only made 2-of-8 attempts from distance against the Wildcats, but McGuirl and Weber both said they destroyed the Wildcats’ morale because of how well the hosts had played defensively on both possessions, only to see the Cowboys nail an end-of-shot-clock triple.
If that weren’t enough, one of those 3s came from Anei — the first of his career, having never attempted a shot behind the line prior to Tuesday.
“We’ve kind of had to establish a different way of trying to win,” Boynton said. “So going inside and trying to get to the free throw line has been a pretty good recipe for us.”
And one that left the bitter taste of defeat in the mouths of K-State’s players and coaches for the fourth straight contest, and sixth in the past seven outings. K-State’s frustration level, McGuirl said, is “very high” with just seven contests remaining in the regular season.
“This is a game we were sort of really expecting and hoping to win,” McGuirl said. “We didn’t. So that’s very, very frustrating.”