'It's only up from here': Why Oklahoma State's Kalib Boone can continue being an inside force for the Cowboys
STILLWATER — Moments before the second overtime was about to begin, Cade Cunningham pulled Kalib Boone aside with a request.
Cunningham needed Oklahoma State’s 6-foot-9 forward to get one rebound. Just one.
Coach Mike Boynton had written “rebound” on his dry-erase board. Assistants all implored the Cowboys to rebound.
But Cunningham sparked Boone.
When Texas’ Courtney Ramey missed a 3-pointer 33 seconds later, Boone got the rebound.
Cunningham, sensing a shift in momentum, then asked for another. He promised to clear the way.
On Texas’ next chance, Ramey missed a layup. Boone was there.
And Cunningham again asked for one final rebound with the guarantee he would clear the way as the Cowboys clung to a four-point lead 2 minutes into the period. Boone again grabbed a missed Ramey shot.
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“After I got that one, in my mind I said, ‘I’m so tired,’” Boone said. “Man, my legs hurt.”
Boone’s rebounds were his 13th, 14th and 15th Saturday afternoon in the wild and sometimes ugly 75-67 double-overtime upset of No. 6-ranked Texas that kept the Cowboys firmly in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
Boone’s rise is perfect timing ahead of the Cowboys’ quick turnaround Monday night at Kansas, a team that he struggled against last month.
But since then, Boone has established himself as an inside force. He had the best performance of his career.
He scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds. He had five blocks. He led the game with a plus-minus rating of plus-21 in 41 minutes.
It was Boone’s fourth double-digit scoring and second double-digit rebounding effort in the past five games and his first without freshman forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe by his side. Moncrieffe suffered a foot injury in Friday’s practice.
“He’s one of those names in the Big 12,” Cunningham said of Boone. “He didn’t force anything. He just played a cool game. Plus-21, those are big-time numbers.”
Boone’s early season struggles are no secret.
Mentally, he was a mess. He put too much pressure on himself. He wasn’t having fun.
But he never cowered as the coaching staff and his teammates pushed him.
Now, the hope is he can continue to shine.
“I get frustrated with him as much as anybody,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “But he knows that I love him like my own child. I just see so much in him. For him, he’s just got to figure out how to do it every day.
“That's the hard part. It’s what makes really good players really good, because they do separate themselves from the average person who can only do it every now and then or have to be challenged to respond. Hopefully, tonight is a step in the right direction.”
Boone is a skilled post player.
Saturday, he ducked, spun and slid to the basket around Texas’ talented big men. He had a key dunk in the first overtime, spinning free from his defender before catching a pass from Cunningham. Boone had four of the Cowboys’ six points in the first extra frame.
“I went into the game to do my job for my team,” Boone said. “Every time I screened, I rolled to the rim. I made another defender help, then when I got it — I’m a Big 12 player too on scholarship — I’ve got to go show them that I can make plays down here.”
Boone gives credit to his practice routine.
He often faces Cunningham 1-on-1 in the low post, with assistant Cannen Cunningham coaching. Boone faces Isaac Likekele, Moncrieffe and Bernard Kouma, too. Sometimes, Cannen even gets in on the action..
There are certainly battles, especially against Cade.
“They don’t like me on that block,” Cade said.
Boone doesn’t always win. But he uses each matchup as a learning tool. Cannen offers tips and guidance that are paying off in big ways.
Plus, Boone is no longer worrying too much. He’s loose and energetic.
And the Cowboys are better off with Boone playing freely.
“I think earlier on whenever I first got here, in his mind he wasn’t going to be doing that,” Cunningham said. “Now that he’s settled down and he’s gotten comfortable, it’s only up from here.”