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Hoops Notebook: The Ninth-Place Game, Anei’s Desire and Winning Without the 3

OSU prepares for its regular season finale.

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STILLWATER — The Oklahoma State basketball team met with the media Friday as the Pokes prepped to face West Virginia at 3 p.m. Saturday in Gallagher-Iba Arena on ESPNews. If you’d like to watch the Cowboys’ interviews in full, you can do so here. Here are the highlights from Friday.

Not Coming in Last

For the past two seasons, the Big 12 coaches have predicted OSU would finish 10th of the 10 Big 12 teams. Last season Mike Boynton and the Cowboys proved that wrong, and they have a chance to do that again Saturday.

The Cowboys and West Virginia have held steady at the bottom of the Big 12 standings for much of the season. They’ll meet in Gallagher-Iba Arena with each team 4-13 in conference games. The Cowboys won the teams’ first meeting 85-77 in Morgantown on Jan. 12, but that result won’t matter this weekend, with the teams’ records being even.

“Nobody wants to finish last,” Cameron McGriff said. “We’ll treat this game just like any other game. We’ll prepare the same. We’re not looking for any consolation prize, but we’re definitely not looking for last place either.

“They’re a team that doesn’t want to be last either. So, it’s going to be a very competitive game. There’s gonna be a lot of effort on both ends of the floor. You just have to be the hardest playing team out there.”

OSU coach Mike Boynton said similarly to his squad, West Virginia is a different team from what the Cowboys saw in January. James Bolden, who has dealt with injuries recently, scored 31 points against OSU earlier this season. Bolden announced Thursday he would be leaving the program.

In February, Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris were dismissed from the program for violating athletic department rules, though they didn’t play in the Jan. 12 game.

Those three departures narrowly fall short of the Cowboys’ three dismissals and one leave.

Boynton said he hasn’t put much thought into the game determining which team finishes last.

“I wanna finish first,” Boynton said. “At the end of the day that’s my total focus is trying to figure out a way to get to the top of the league and not worry about avoiding the bottom.”

What Makes Yor Anei Such a Dominant Shot Blocker?

There’s one obvious reason Yor Anei is good a throwing shots in directions opposite of the hoop: He is 6-foot-10 with an 7-foot wingspan.

With that said, there are also other reasons as to why Anei recently broke OSU’s freshman blocks record. Boynton said a big reason is his desire to seek blocks. Boynton said Anei believes he can block them all.

“A lot of times you see a big guy who just doesn’t make attempts,” Boynton said. “He attempts to block shots all the time, so that’s the first thing. He’s pretty aggressive around the basket. He’s learned how to stay on the ground a little bit more and be a little bit more disciplined in that area, which has made him more effective. He’s been able to stay out of foul trouble a lot better here in the last month or so, save for a couple games.”

After the player dismissals there was concern about Anei having to pick up more minutes, as he had struggled with foul trouble for much of the year. In the Cowboys first five games of January, Anei averaged 4.2 fouls a contest. He has grown out of that for the most part, as since he has only had four or more fouls in three of 13 games.

“He can really time a guy’s shot to not foul the shooter at the same time he blocks his shot,” McGriff said. “That’s what he’s grown into. Throughout the season he got in a lot of foul trouble early on, but now you’ve seen him grown and play 30, 35 minutes every game.”

Winning Without 3-Point Shooting

Boynton has said on a few occasions this season that a lot of OSU’s scoring was going to come from the team’s 3-point shooting.

With wings such as Thomas Dziagwa, Lindy Waters and Curtis Jones, that is expected, but that well was dry Wednesday in Waco, as the Pokes hit only 17 percent of their 3-point attempts. Even with that deficiency, the Cowboys pulled out a 67-64 victory against Baylor.

“If you would’ve told me we were going to shoot 5-for-29 from 3, I’d probably tell you that Scott Sutton and John Cooper were gonna handle coaching duties that game,” Boynton said. “I’ll go do something else. But, the kids kept battling, and they didn’t get discouraged when we got down early, so that’s signs of growth in my mind.”

Boynton compared that start to the one the Cowboys had against Kansas State in Manhattan, but instead of figuring out other means to scoring in that game, OSU got drilled 85-46.

McGriff said it’s games like that as to why the Cowboys try to be a defense-first team. The Cowboys held Baylor to 35-percent field goal shooting Wednesday and forced the Bears into 10 turnovers.

Much of the Pokes scoring came from Isaac Likekele. Likekele, a freshman point guard, tied a career high with 23 points.

“I felt like regardless of whether we were going to start making shots or not, I felt like our defense was going to get us the win anyway,” Likekele said. “Those guys, they shoot real good. There’s not gonna be another shooting night like that.”