By Mark Cooper | Tulsa World
STILLWATER — As part of his acclimation process to the position of Oklahoma State head coach, and as part of his process of helping the OSU community acclimate to him, Mike Boynton traveled to Tulsa this spring and met with Cowboy legend Eddie Sutton.
What is there to talk about with the coach who took Oklahoma State to two Final Fours? Defense, of course. Sutton’s teams were hard-nosed, and the former coach let Boynton in on one way he motivated his players behind the scenes.
They wore “DEFENSE” across the back of their practice shorts.
“That’s one of the ways he emphasized it every day,” Boynton said. “When I told him that I would think about doing it again, he lit up. And so we made that happen pretty quickly.”
Step into Gallagher-Iba Arena on most afternoons these days, and you’ll see Boynton’s homage to the Sutton era. When Sutton took over as Oklahoma State’s coach in 1990, the word “defense” began with a word on shorts but became a signature of Cowboy basketball.
Boynton had a front-row seat last season to an entirely different kind of ball: Oklahoma State paired the most efficient offense in the country with a defense that turned into a sieve. The Cowboys averaged 85.5 points over their final four games, but lost all four by allowing 90 per game.
Now the head coach, Boynton believes Oklahoma State can be better on defense in 2017-18, as it tries to outperform its projected last-place finish in the Big 12. The Cowboys will begin their season Friday with more size at guard and will add a shot blocker in December in 6-foot-11 Yankuba Sima.
They’re also, quite simply, going to look silly in those practice shorts if the defense is not improved.
“It’s just something that we have to take pride in, day in and day out,” senior Jeffrey Carroll said.
Under Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State attempted to employ a high-pressure, in-your-face defense early last season. The goal was to get in passing lanes and deny teams from running their offense. At times, the Cowboys pressured full court.
Its potential showed on occasion in nonconference play. Georgetown turned the ball over 28 times in a 97-70 loss to OSU in November.
But in Big 12 play, opponents were too good. A primary reason for OSU’s 0-6 start in Big 12 play was porous defense.
Going conservative down the stretch helped Oklahoma State minimize mistakes (and foul trouble) while salvaging a 9-9 league record and an NCAA Tournament berth.
But Boynton said to expect some aggression from OSU again this year.
“We won’t be quite as aggressive as we were the beginning of last year, but we’ll certainly be closer to that than we were at the end of the year,” Boynton said. “We were pretty passive in terms of defense.”
Boynton said he is constantly reminded of how far OSU has to come defensively. He recently watched a replay of the Cowboys’ 96-92 win over Oklahoma on Feb. 18.
Against a team that ranked 118th in adjusted offensive efficiency, OSU allowed 53 first-half points.
By the sounds of it, efforts like that won’t sit well with Boynton. And he has the full attention of his players.
“We’re going to really get after it,” guard Kendall Smith said. “We’re going to pressure teams full court, 94 feet, whatever Coach Mike asks us to do.”