STILLWATER — Freshman Rondel Walker got the first start of his college career Saturday with junior guard Isaac Likekele missing Oklahoma State’s home game against Kansas State.
Likekele rested because of a foot injury he’s been battling. OSU coach Mike Boynton threw Walker into the starting five, and he gave the Cowboys an energetic start in a 67-60 win over the Wildcats at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Walker has been an energy guy for the Cowboys all year, and he kept that same approach in his first start.
“I just felt like it was another day, there really was no difference,” Walker said. “My job today was to come in and get the spark immediately and not off the bench. I took it just as another day and just did what I could to help the team.”
Walker had five points and two steals in the first 4:15 of the game. He finished with 10 points, six rebounds, three steals and a block.
“He plays the same whether he starts and plays 40 minutes or he comes off the bench and plays 15,” Boynton said. “He’s just going to be a really, really good player. He brings great energy. He’s really, really focused on helping us defensively as much as possible and I thought him and Avery Anderson really set the tone for us today.”
The Cowboys had several good moments, including going 9-of-9 from the free-throw line. They tied their season-high of 10 made 3-pointers on 35.7% shooting from deep while totaling seven steals and six blocks.
Cade Cunningham had his usual second-half surge, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the final 20 minutes, and Bryce Williams added 10 points. Boynton said his players are getting closer to playing a full 40-minute game but aren’t all the way there yet.
“I’d say without the benefit of watching the film I felt good about how we played for about 35 minutes, which is getting closer,” he said. “We’ve been doing about 29, 30, in some cases not even that much. Today, I thought it was more complete from an effort and mentality standpoint. The way we played was the right way to play.”
Some of OSU’s lingering issues were still prevalent, including the second-half droughts. The Cowboys (13-6, 6-6 Big 12) held a 20-point lead when a Kansas State 16-0 run cut the lead to 41-37 with 14:27 remaining. Freshman Nijel Pack tallied 12 second-half points for K-State and finished with 14. Dajuan Gordon scored nine of his 15 points in the second half for the Wildcats (5-17, 1-12).
OSU responded with a 10-2 run that pushed the lead back to 51-39 but Boynton said the trend of allowing second-half runs is concerning.
“We’re looking for the perfect game,” he said. “We’re looking for the perfect scenario where you get up double digits by halftime and you extend it. The other team just kind of lays down and you go away and you have a laugher. There are several things that play into that. One, we haven’t shown the maturity to really extend the lead from 20 to 30 and we got up 20 at some point today. And you’ve got to give credit to the other team.”
The Cowboys also reached 17 turnovers for the fourth time in five games. OSU cleaned up the sloppiness to have fewer unforced errors, but Boynton said he still wants to see the turnover number go down.
“The number is definitely too high,” Boynton said. “Now, I’ll need to go back to the film and figure out where they’re coming from. There is always a couple questionable ones. I think Rondel’s (Walker) charge, it’s a bang-bang play. That one is. Bernie’s (Kouma) screen. We want to be in the 12-13 range, so we’re not in the 20s like we have been the past few games, but we still want to get that number down closer to single digits rather than double.”
Saturday was the first win for OSU as a ranked team since beating Baylor on Feb. 9, 2015. The Cowboys went 1-1 this week after losing to unranked Kansas Monday and this Monday’s Associated Press poll will reveal if that loss was enough to knock the Cowboys back out of the top 25.