How Oklahoma State's dynamic defensive duo of Rondel Walker, Bryce Williams is changing the game: 'We take pride in that'
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton might contest Tuesday night’s boxscore.
From what he remembers of the Cowboys’ 83-78 victory over Oral Roberts, there should be more than two steals credited for freshman Rondel Walker.
“For some reason that I can’t accept that,” Boynton said. “I swear he had about seven.”
Whatever the box score says, it likely wouldn’t tell the entire story anyway.
Walker was again a dynamic defender. So was fellow guard Bryce Williams.
On a night the Cowboys got a huge closing effort from freshman phenom Cade Cunningham, they still desperately needed a spark on defense to survive another onslaught of 3-pointers. OSU found it in the dynamic defensive duo.
A freshman from Putnam West. A veteran transfer from Ole Miss.
Quite a pair.
“Me and him both like defense,” Walker said. “When we’re out there, we just know what we’re out there for, like first and foremost. We take pride in that.”
The duo has been electric the past three games. When on the floor together, those lineups have generated 13 steals, averaged 2.26 points per minute and featured a plus-minus of plus-28, according to OSU.
Unleashing them at the right time is crucial, like Tuesday night.
OSU was struggling after one half, holding just a one-point lead as ORU made seven 3-pointers. ORU ultimately hit 16 of 33 3-pointers, bringing the total 3s made against OSU the past two games to 33. ORU guard Max Abmas hit seven, scoring 36 points.
Walker said Oakland was just red hot Saturday, but ORU took advantage of the Cowboys’ miscommunication. Either way, the Golden Eagles’ hot shooting kept them in the game.
That’s why Boynton turned to the duo with the Cowboys trailing by two with 15:32 remaining.
Williams, who finished with four takeaways, immediately had a steal. Walker started hounding the Golden Eagles, deflecting passes and catching them from behind to knock the ball away. He even took the basketball from the hands of an ORU player as he tried to swing around Walker on a drive to the basket.
It took little time for them to have Gallagher-Iba Arena rocking in anticipation of the next big defensive play like the old days.
“We don’t put ‘Defense’ on the back of their shorts just because it looks cute,” Boynton said. “It means something in this program. Mr. (Henry) Iba is the original defensive coach in the history of basketball, not just college basketball. Obviously, Coach (Eddie) Sutton who played for him carried that legacy on.
“The best teams in the history of our program have had a defensive identity. There’s a reason that those teams have been some of the most revered teams in the history of our program. And I think our guys are starting to understand it.”
Boynton first noticed the combination of Walker and Williams working so well together about a month ago. Boynton likes to mix lineups early in practice. But the final 10 or so practices before the season, he hones in on lineups.
He immediately noticed Walker and Williams thrived going against Cunningham and Isaac Likekele in practice. They got better and so did Cunningham and Likekele.
The benefits of Walker and Williams together in the future can be huge for the Cowboys. And mix them in the lineup with Cunningham and Likekele — like they are a lot to begin the season — and the Cowboys become a menace on defense.
“We can be really, really aggressive defensively,” Boynton said.
Walker and Williams are certainly that. It’s led to chaos for opponents.
And joy for OSU fans.
“I told our guys there’s a reason that Rondel — although he didn’t score very much — is probably the guy that fans left here feeling the most excited about,” Boynton said. “Obviously, that’s understanding how talented he is and just the effort he plays with, the understanding that he can impact the game on the defensive end and not have to score a bunch of points to be appreciated.
“It’s one of the unique things about this program and it’s why I’m so proud to try to resurrect it in some way.”
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.