How OSU's defense stifled Marquette to pass first true test of college basketball season: 'We need this kill'
With each defensive stop, the Oklahoma State bench got louder.
Two in a row, well, that brought even more noise. Three stops in a row equals a “kill” in the Cowboys’ world, and the goal is to get six in a game.
“We know in our head that this third one is about to come up,” OSU guard Bryce Williams said. “We need this kill.”
OSU’s socially-distanced bench had plenty of moments to cheer in the second half.
The Cowboys met their six-kill goal in the final half alone, showing a stifling defense in their first true test of the season during a 70-62 victory at Marquette in the Big 12/Big East Showdown on Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
OSU (3-0) mixed its normal aggressive man-to-man defense with a zone defense and multiple full- and half-court presses to overwhelm Marquette. The Golden Eagles, who committed 24 turnovers, shot just 33.9% overall and 25.8% in the final half.
“Those things are just deflating,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “If a team goes three possessions in a row without scoring, it really starts to bother them psychologically. The fact that our kids this early have bought into that makes me really proud.”
Early, OSU appeared to be in trouble.
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Marquette (2-1) built an 11-point lead with 11:52 left in the half. The Cowboys were turning the ball over. Marquette faced little resistance on offense.
Boynton then made a crucial decision.
OSU went to its zone defense.
Normally, that’s reserved for a change of pace or a set out of timeouts. There wasn’t really much of a plan to use it much.
But the Cowboys immediately turned the game around. Reserve guards Bryce Williams and Rondel Walker were menaces atop the zone.
That led to more offense, even as Marquette led 35-32 at half.
Then the Cowboys turned up the defense even more in the second half, holding Marquette to just seven field goals. The third did not come until 6:26 remained in the game.
“We just had to play zone,” Williams said. “They couldn’t shoot anyway, so we were just trying to make them drive and we started to drive ourselves.”
Three weeks ago, the idea of this type of defensive performance felt more than weeks away. The offense was way ahead — and still slightly is, according to Boynton — as the new recruiting class struggled to find its way in practice.
Boynton was rightfully concerned, even after two strong showings to open the season.
But this was a matchup against a Big East team built to be the stifling defender. Marquette had three forwards in the lineup capable of giving an undersized OSU team problems.
Junior guard Isaac Likekele started preparing his teammates for the test immediately after Saturday’s rout of Texas Southern. This wasn’t going to be easy.
And Cade Cunningham even provided motivation.
Before the Cowboys even left Gallagher-Iba Arena on Monday to catch a flight to Milwaukee, he told Walker that the metrics gave the Cowboys a 29% chance to win.
That brought out an edge that will only help in the rugged Big 12.
“We just felt disrespected by that,” Walker said. “So, we just came out ready to play and put their backs against the wall on their home court.”
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.