Oklahoma State played the longest season in the nation. 362 days to be exact.
No, the Cowboys did not start their season in early November … they started the season on a cloudy and humid, Friday in Stillwater. March, 24 2017.
After Brad Underwood’s departure from Stillwater, the OSU dignitaries made a mad dash to hire a new head basketball coach. Just three days later, 36-year-old Mike Boynton got the nod, for the price of 1 million dollars per year. Cowboy fans were … less than happy.
The young and ambitious coach made his first public appearance at an OSU softball game. Baby in hand, wife by his side. Trying to win the hearts of OSU fans. His first interview as head coach was on the regional telecast of the Cowgirl Softball game. The question-marks loomed. While optimists were out there, plenty of Cowboy fans were skeptical, to say the least. That didn’t stop Coach Boynton. Much to his credit and to his motto “Let’s Work.” That he did.
Boynton had plenty of adversity looking him right in the face. A coach that won the hearts of Cowboy fans quickly departed for Illinois. The star point guard for the Cowboys departed for the NBA. Boynton was charged with the task of continuity. The young and cunning coach picked up a “rental” point guard in Kendall Smith. Boynton learned on the fly.
Months of practice, learning moments, interviews, and a myriad of things came and gone between the months of March and November.
The Cowboys were picked tenth in the Big 12. Dead last. Bottom of the totem pole. That wasn’t all though.
The biggest story of the college basketball season broke before the exhibition games even began. An FBI probe against college basketball found its way to Stillwater at the hands of, then, Associate Head Coach Lamont Evans. That investigation then fell into the lap of America’s youngest head coach to handle. Boynton was forced to fire his right-hand man just days before the season. Boynton, surrounded by media members, had an OSU big-wig over his shoulder while he answered questions about the investigation. Boynton handled the questions and situations with poise, honesty and toughness.
After all that, the competition part of the season came. Full of high and low points, turning points and historic victories. Buckle up.
November 3, The Weevils of Arkansas-Monticello came to Stillwater. The doors of Gallagher-Iba Arena opened to a smattering of OSU fans stricken by skepticism, grief, questions and disappointment. The season started in an inauspicious way. Once again, the Cowboys didn’t let the circumstances faze them. The Pokes cruised past the Weevils by a final score of 85-65. But that was just the exhibition game.
The really real competition started with a team OSU fans had actually heard of. The Pepperdine Wave. The Wave came to town as part of a regional for the tournament the Cowboys would later play in Boynton’s hometown of Brooklyn, New York. Again, the Cowboys had no problem with Pepperdine riding the Wave 78-47.
The Cowboys kicked it into high gear in the ol’ stomping grounds of Boynton … Brooklyn. OSU faced two starkly different opponents. Texas A&M, who is a sweet sixteen team. And Pittsburgh … who was arguably the worst team in college basketball this year. The Cowboys kept it close in the battle of the agriculture schools, but let A&M pull away for a 72-55 victory. The Cowboys bounced back the next day with a 73-67 win over Pitt.
That wasn’t the only highlight to the Pokes’ non-conference schedule. Oklahoma State scheduled two regular season games, facing Florida State (another Sweet Sixteen team) and Wichita State (who spent most of the season in the top-15).
The Wichita State game, in Stillwater, drew the largest Cowboy crowd to that point in the season. Much like the Texas A&M game, let the Shockers pull away and lost the game 78-66.
The Cowboys turned their season around on a dime with a game in Miami vs. Florida State. The Pokes beat the Leonard Hamilton coached, Sweet Sixteen team 71-70. The game caught the eyes of Cowboy fans, who perked their ears up.
Oklahoma State had the task of playing in America’s best basketball conference, the Big 12. They opened their conference season with a home game vs. the mighty Mountaineers of West Virginia. The Cowboys couldn’t put together enough stretches of brilliance, and lost the game 89-75. OSU fans came back down to Earth, but remained optimistic, until a trip to Norman.
The Cowboys got to see college basketball’s poster boy from Oklahoma for the first time. The game, played in front of a sold-out Lloyd Noble Center, did not bode well for the Cowboys. Not only did the Pokes lose, they barely got off the bus. Oklahoma surpassed the century mark in a resounding 109-89 win. The skepticism was back.
OSU returned to the friendly confines of GIA to claim their first Big 12 win. A thrilling game vs. Iowa State by a final score of 96-87. OSU fans looked on and observed, but were not quick to jump on any bandwagon.
A bad matchup for the Cowboys, Kansas State, came along and put the Cowboys back in the loss column. A win vs. Texas and a loss to Baylor separated the Pokes for their biggest game of the season.
Trae Young and the Oklahoma Sooners were met in Stillwater by a raucous, fire-breathing crowd in Gallagher-Iba Arena. The nationally televised game on January 20 propelled the Cowboys to a successful rest of the season. The students rushed the floor for the first, and not only time of the season. OSU humbled the superstar, Young, and sent the Sooners home with their most disappointing loss of the year. Oklahoma plummeted after the Bedlam loss. The Cowboys soared. Oklahoma didn’t win a single road game in the month of February, while the Cowboys accomplished never-before-done tasks. OSU aggressively flirted with an NCAA Tournament berth.
A few close games, put the Cowboys into a lapse. Losses to Texas Tech, Arkansas and TCU left a bad taste in the Cowboy’s mouth.
But I thought you said the Cowboys soared after the Bedlam game?
Did the Cowboys lose three straight games after Bedlam? Yes. Did they get pummeled? Absolutely not. The Cowboys lost by just 5 to, then, #14 Texas Tech, on the road. The Arkansas trip featured eight active Cowboy players. They lost by one to Arkansas. Oklahoma State lost by eight to TCU, after coming off immense adversity. Although the Cowboys still posted “Ls” to their name, they showed chemistry, fun-loving, clean basketball. That had not been seen to date by Cowboy fans. The most encouraging losses a basketball team has ever had occurred in that three game stretch.
What about Kansas?
That’s where the history comes in. Oklahoma State came into Allen Fieldhouse, unafraid, frustrated, and ready to play. Oklahoma State did the impossible. They beat Kansas on their home floor. It wasn’t a fluke either. The Cowboys won the game 84-79. Oklahoma State maintained a double-digit lead for almost the entire game. Kansas would have rather not seen the Cowboys again.
Oklahoma State lost to Baylor, after the Kansas came, continuing the tradition of winning big, then losing out of nowhere.
The Cowboys had another opportunity to bounce back, and claim revenge. OSU made the treacherous trip to Monongalia County, West Virginia. Just like the Kansas game, the Cowboys were ready to play. The Pokes never lost control of the game and beat WVU 88-85.
With the win over WVU, Mike Boynton, 36 years old, claimed wins against Leonard Hamilton, Bob Huggins, Bill Self and Lon Krueger. All of which are hall-of-famers.
Cowboy fans took notice and began showing up to Gallagher-Iba more consistently. Except for one day.
On the iciest day of the year in Stillwater, OSU hosted Texas Tech. The Cowboys, looking to claim some more revenge took it to the sixth ranked Raiders 79-71. To give you an idea of the atmosphere, the attendance was well under 4,000 and Larry Reece was not on the public address mic. The students rushed the floor anyway, in one of the weirdest games of GIA’s illustrious history.
Just when the Cowboys couldn’t do the impossible again … they did. Kansas came to GIA with payment on the mind. Senior day for the Pokes in front of a sellout crowd saw the Cowboys demolish the Jayhawks 82-64. Oklahoma State became the only team, in the Bill Self-era, to pull off the sweep of Kansas. The last time it had been done, in general, Mike Boynton was wearing diapers. With the NCAA tournament bubble on the mind, the Cowboys drove north for Kansas City. Bedlam round three and the Big 12 Tournament.
Remember, that the Sooners plummeted after their loss in Stillwater. They showed signs of their lackluster team in Kansas City as the Cowboys rolled OU 71-60. Then, another matchup with Kansas loomed.
Could it be done three times? No. The Cowboys were gassed, and the Jayhawks showed why they are a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After a second round loss to KU, Oklahoma State awaited their destiny pertaining to postseason basketball. A destiny that was far from their own hands.
Oklahoma State missed the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma had a berth.
How that can be justified is incomprehensible. Head-to-head matchup alone the Cowboys have the head-up over the Sooners. Apparently, the first ever sweep of a Bill Self Kansas team, two wins vs. a team that made the tournament, wins over West Virginia and Florida State were not enough.
If it makes it any better, justice was served as Rhode Island beat the Sooners in the first round of the tournament. Nice job, selection committee.
As it sits today, OSU has 5 wins against Sweet Sixteen teams. Again – if the selection committee’s goal was to miss the mark they did a fantastic job of doing so.
The Cowboys were granted a two-seed in the NIT tournament. Oklahoma State opened the NIT with a home game against Florida Gulf Coast. The Cowboys’ talent was too much for FGCU as the Cowboys won 80-65.
Then, as is tradition, Oklahoma State played Stanford after getting snubbed from a national game. (A-la 2011-12 football season). The Cardinal provided a tall, literally, task for the Cowboys. OSU came away with a win 71-65.
After the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky upset top-seeded USC, they gained a trip to Stillwater to face the firey Cowboys. Oklahoma State could not get over the hump, had a lead at the beginning of the contest, and one tie at 60-60. For what it’s worth, the officials called a foul on an OSU player that wasn’t even in the game. None of the 50/50 calls went the Cowboys’ way and the Hilltoppers ended the Pokes’ season to the tune of a 92-84 victory.
There are no adequate adjectives to describe the season Oklahoma State had. While not flashy, the Cowboys enjoyed tremendous success in less than felicitous circumstances. Mike Holder hit a home-run with the hire of Mike Boynton. Any naysayers of the coach are biting their tongue. Through an FBI investigation, a game with 8 active players, a firing of a coach, a release of players, a tenth place prediction, and America’s youngest coach, the Cowboys provided one of the most memorable seasons in Oklahoma State basketball history. The 2017-2018 Oklahoma State basketball season will be talked about for years to come. History was made. Fun was had. OSU surprised people. Now, we wait to see what Mike Boynton can do with a full deck of cards, because he clearly enjoyed success with the worst hand at the table. Hoops, in Stillwater, are slowly, but surely, going back to the way they used to be. Sold out games whether OSU is playing Middle Popcorn State Tech, or the Kansas Jayhawks, success on the highest level, and great leadership
Extremely bright days are on the horizon for Oklahoma State basketball.
But, until then …