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Five Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 96-68 Victory against New Orleans

On Keller’s explosive debut, an injury update and more.

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[Devin Wilber/PFB]

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STILLWATER — The Cowboys still have a long ways to go, but they got back in the win column in dominant fashion Monday night.

Oklahoma State beat New Orleans 96-68 in Gallagher-Iba Arena, as the Cowboys moved to 2-3 on the year. Monday’s game featured a 22-0 OSU run midway through the second half that put the game well out of reach for the now 2-2 Privateers.

Here are five thoughts from the game.

1. Hello, Jamyron Keller

Jamyron Keller played his first college basketball game Monday, and it went about as well as it possibly could have.

A freshman from St. Matthews, South Carolina, by way of Killeen, Texas, Keller missed the Cowboys’ opening four games of the season with a wrist injury, but in his first game of the season as a college player, Keller led the Cowboys with 18 points. He went 7-for-10 from the field and 4-for-7 from 3-point range.

Among OSU’s five freshmen, Keller wasn’t the most heralded recruit. ESPN touted him as a four-star prospect, but Keller was the No. 149 player in his class, per the 247Sports Composite rankings. His only other reported Power Five offer was to Kansas State.

At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he is physically imposing. He is probably less physically imposing than Isaac Likekele — not as long — but he is more skilled offensively than Likekele was. Likekele made three 3-pointers at Ohio State all of last season, for example. Keller made three Monday night.

“I was surprised how aggressively he looked for his shot,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “He didn’t take any bad shots. He took open shots. He dunked one in transition. Just the freedom it looked like he played with, how comfortable he looked on the court was more surprising because I thought he’d be a little nervous, a little bit more reserved or hesitant to go out there and go for it. But I was glad to see him not take that approach.”

2. Javon Small, Good at Ball

I was in Orlando the last time the Cowboys played in Stillwater, so this was the first time I got to see Javon Small play in person. I’ll tell you what, he isn’t half bad.

Small scored 16 points, carrying the load in the first half where he scored 13, but his skills as a point guard are definitely what stand out. Small had six assists and no turnovers Monday. Through four games as a Cowboy, he has 20 assists and 11 turnovers. It’s probably way too early to be doing this, but at five assists a game, Small is on pace to finish the regular season with 150 assists. OSU hasn’t had a player do that since Jawun Evans dished out 204 assists as a sophomore in 2016-17.

And Small’s passing doesn’t just help his assist numbers, it makes the offense as a whole flow better. The Cowboys had 21 assists to 12 turnovers against New Orleans. OSU had just two games of at least 20 assists all of last season. As a team, OSU is averaging 15.8 assists a game this season. Through five games last season, OSU averaged 14.6.

But his scoring is important, too. He is averaging 16 points a game through his first four as a Cowboy. At East Carolina, Small was a 31% 3-point shooter. In four games, he has hit 46% of his 3-point attempts. That’s surely going to lower at some point (probably?), but for a team that has struggled shooting the 3 since Thomas Dziagwa and Lindy Waters left town, the Pokes will certainly take that.

3. Freshmen Playing More

OSU freshmen played 46% of the Cowboys’ minutes Monday, a season-high.

Some of that has to do with Keller playing and Bryce Thompson sitting with injury, but the freshmen’s minutes have seen an uptick lately.

OSU freshmen accounted for 33% of minutes played in Game 1, 31% in Game 2 and 27% in Game 3. Then against Notre Dame in Game 4, that jumped to 41% before Monday night’s 46%.

The freshmen combined for 49 of OSU’s points Monday, with Keller leading the way with his 18. Eric Dailey Jr. joined him in double figures with 14, while Connor Dow had eight, Justin McBride had six and Brandon Garrison had four.

4. Injury Update

Bryce Thompson sat his second straight game with a knee injury in Monday night’s OSU win.

After the game, Boynton wasn’t ready to give a timetable on Thompson’s return, but he did note that after an MRI there didn’t appear to be long-term damage. He also said Thompson was able to run on a specialized treadmill.

Isaiah Miranda missed OSU’s first four games with a hip injury after a fall early in OSU’s exhibition game Nov. 1. He was set to make his collegiate debut Monday night before he stepped on a foot in warmups and rolled his ankle. A 7-foot-1, floor-stretching unicorn, Miranda enrolled early at NC State last season but didn’t play with the Wolfpack before his transfer to Stillwater.

“I hate it for him,” Boynton said. “Another setback. You wonder mentally what it does to a kid. We’re going to continue to try to encourage him to be positive because if we ever get him there, we think there’s some things that he could bring to the table in a positive manner.”

5. Boynton Doesn’t Want His Players Feeling as If They ‘Gotta Rescue Their Coach’

Even with the youth of this team or the fact that it has had an abnormal amount of injuries to start the season, this has been an underwhelming start to the Cowboys’ season.

Mike Boynton is in Year 7 of his tenure at Oklahoma State, having made the NCAA Tournament one time. Even that comes with the caveats of the FBI investigation and its fallout lingering over the program since Boynton took over and the fact that the Cowboys were hosed the 2017-18 season and finished as the first team out of the tournament last year.

Still, the standard is the standard, and the likes of Henry Iba and Eddie Sutton have set this program’s standard as a perennial tournament contender.

It’s November. The Cowboys aren’t out of contention for anything yet. These three early season losses will look rough on a resume if the Cowboys are on the bubble come March, though. But, with as deep as the Big 12 is (again), the Cowboys will have plenty of opportunities to improve their resume as the season goes on.

You don’t have to look all that hard to find fans on social media upset with the state of the program. But with this young team, Boynton said he needs to keep them focused on the day-to-day grind of getting better.

“These guys all want to play in the tournament,” Boynton said. “I’ve tried to really shield that from them in terms of that being the thing they focus on every day. That’s on me, man. Like, these guys haven’t been here. That’s a head coach deal. We gotta prepare to play well each game. I don’t want a bunch of freshmen feeling like they gotta rescue their coach, so to speak — get to the tournament this year. I want these guys to get better. I want to look up and see Justin McBride in January and feel like we’re doing the right thing by this kid because we’re letting him learn through some mistakes, allowing him to grow through some discomfort, same thing with Garrison, same thing with Keller.

“So I really don’t talk about it with them that much at all. What we really talk about is the thing we can control is being better today. Hopefully that continues. I know. I’m very aware that we dropped some games that don’t look good on our resume if you reach out three months from now, but it doesn’t help them get ready to play against New Orleans or Houston Christian or Creighton next week to worry about that. And it’s too much for them to even understand. I do know that we’ll have a lot of opportunities out in front of us. So that’s my focus, is on just getting better so we can take advantage of those.”

Mike Boynton’s Postgame News Conference

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