It does not appear as if the Oklahoma State Cowboys were looking ahead to Sunday’s game with 17th-ranked Maryland.
The Cowboys (9-1) used suffocating defense and a balanced scoring effort to race past Middle Tennessee State 68-44 for a wire-to-wire victory. Four Pokes reached double figures led by Le’Bryan Nash with 16 points. Michael Cobbins and Phil Forte each added 12 points and Jeff Newberry added 11 off the bench. But this night was not about the offense.
The Cowboys smothered the Blue Raiders (5-5) with tight man-to-man pressure from the midway point of the first half until the final buzzer. Oklahoma State went on a 22-3 run over the last nine minutes of the first half and never looked back.
MTSU connected on only 14 field-goals and shot a meager 31% from the field. The Blue Raiders committed 16 turnovers and never found an offensive rhythm after the first ten minutes.
Offensively, Nash and Cobbins were terrors in the paint as the Cowboys outscored the under-sized Blue Raiders 32-8 in the lane. Many of those points were dunks by Cobbins.
After ten games the Cowboys are 9-1, but playtime is over. There are no more out of conference cupcakes on the schedule. The 17th-ranked Maryland Terrapins of the Big Ten visit Stillwater Sunday then the Cowboys go on the road to face Missouri before a brutal Big 12 slate begins.
Here are three thoughts on the Pokes after ten games and before the big boy portion of the season begins:
Forte and Anthony Hickey are developing electric chemistry
Hickey, an LSU transfer, is fast becoming the heartbeat of this team. His on-the-ball defense and his floor leadership are invaluable. More importantly, he and Forte are developing great chemistry.
Both have the ability to get the Cowboys into their offense. Hickey can break down defense with penetration while Forte spots up to shoot. Hickey is finding Forte coming off screens and that is helping offensive output.
But there is such a thing as defensive chemistry and Hickey and Forte have it. They both pressure the ball well and Forte has a knack for coming up with loose balls (30 steals) that Hickey often creates with deflections and ball pressure. When one collects a loose ball it seems they know right where the other is to convert turnovers into points.
Nash is the most talented force on the team, but Hickey and Forte are providing its heart and soul.
Cobbins is a becoming force
Cobbins, who is coming back from and Achilles injury, is regaining his form and becoming a force on both ends of the floor. He has been especially dominant in the last two outings.
Against Memphis, Cobbins had 12 points, eight rebounds and four steals in the 73-55 win. And tonight against MTSU Cobbins was even more dominant (12 points, eight rebounds, two assists, four blocks).
Cobbins is not just adding points, he is offering an edge to a terrific defensive team. His blocks and presence in the paint are critical to the pressure defensive system. On the offensive end, Cobbins is a finisher and as his health improves many of those finishes are momentum changing dunks.
The Pokes will need Cobbins to combat the massive frontlines that await in the Big 12, but more and more it is looking like he is up for the challenge.
Travis Ford is still tinkering with lineups
After ten games, Ford has a nucleus he can count on. Nash, Forte, Hickey and Cobbins are solid Big 12 stars. But the direction Ford intends to go with for the fifth starter is still in flux.
Sharp-shooting redshirt freshman Jeffery Carroll has gotten recent starts and he has been adequate. That move forces Nash to the four and leaves the Cowboys with an undersized lineup.
Ford has also use freshman center Mitchell Solomon in the frontcourt alongside Cobbins, but that combination reduces the Cowboys’ firepower. Seven-footer Anthony Allen would give Ford the length and athleticism he needs up front, but Allen has yet to nail down the job.
The bench scoring has been an issue as well. Against Memphis, Ford’s core quartet accounted for 70 of the 73 points scored. Newberry showed a bit of promise tonight with 11 points, but can he and role players like Tavarius Shine, Leyton Hammonds and Tyree Griffin deliver against stiffer competition?
There are sure to be struggles like injuries and foul trouble along the way. And facing long and athletic conference personnel every night will challenge Ford until this lineup is solidified.
But after ten games, this team is exceeding expectations. How they endure against the gauntlet of Power Five and Big 12 competition remains to be seen.