STILLWATER — Xavier coach Travis Steele kept a not-so-secret weapon in his back pocket until just the right moment.
That was with about 13 minutes remaining in the game. Xavier and Oklahoma State were locked in a back-and-forth battle, at that time tied.
Steele first went to a 1-3-1 defense. Then, he went to the 2-3 zone.
And OSU’s struggles against the zone continued.
So did the recent skid.
The Cowboys struggled to make shots late against the zone and could not dig out of a huge hole, falling Sunday evening 77-71 to Xavier in the annual Big 12/Big East Battle.
“We did lose to a good team today,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “We showed some fight today better than we did the other night in many areas, particularly on the offensive end. We just didn’t make shots on a high-enough level, and when I say not make shots I’m talking about in times when we needed to, clutch shots, shots that were under duress.”
OSU (6-3) has lost two straight games entering a welcome eight-day break.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
The dreaded zone strikes again
It sounds like a broken record or that annoying song that always seems to be on the radio.
Even OSU leader Isaac Likekele feels that way.
“It sounds like a repeating thing, honestly,” he said. “You know, teams come here that don’t play zone play zone.”
And Xavier broke out its zone defense for the first time all season. Not once had the Musketeers played zone in their previous seven games.
Like losses to Oakland — a zone-heavy team — and Wichita State — a not zone-heavy team — it stifled the Cowboys again.
With the game tied at 50 and 13:21 remaining, Steele went to the zone. Xavier built a 14-point lead over the next 9 minutes.
OSU — a tough team to defend man-to-man because of its length and athleticism — failed to make shots. It turned the ball over with bad decisions.
“Part of it, I think, is a confidence deal,” Boynton said. “When you haven’t had success doing something, you need to have some success to believe that it’s not going to be the ultimate kryptonite for you, and that hasn’t happened yet.”
Boynton did go deep with his bench to attempt to break the funk, but also because of injuries.
Bryce Thompson suffered a hip injury. Keylan Boone was battling a back issue. Rondel Walker had stomach issues.
So, Boynton turned to Syracuse transfer Woody Newton and Donovan Williams for the first time in a few weeks.
Newton hit back-to-back 3s with 2:59 remaining to force Xavier to take a timeout and rethink things.
“He was ready, he shot the ball with confidence and it was all-world for me,” OSU guard Avery Anderson III said about Newton.
Avery Anderson finding way
Anderson is on the upswing.
After scoring 17 points but turning the ball over six times in the loss to Wichita State, Anderson responded with his most complete game of the season.
He scored a season-high 26 points, had five rebounds and had three assists. He had just two turnovers, as well.
“I’m just playing my game and my teammates are just putting me in the right positions to make plays,” Anderson said. “I’m staying the course, I’m helping my teammates like they’re helping me out, so that’s why I’m having good performances.”
Anderson was especially impressive in the opening half, scoring 12 points and hitting a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to cap a 13-5 run to close out the half with a 39-35 lead.
He continued to attack in the second half.
“I don’t worry about guys who work,” Boynton said. “I just don’t. Work wins, and that kid works as hard as anybody I’ve been around and he’s got a high level of care for winning.”
Big men foul trouble
OSU’s trio of big men — Moussa Cisse, Kalib Boone and Tyreek Smith — all dealt with foul trouble.
That limited them to a combined seven points and 12 rebounds.
Boone, who had a strong two-handed dunk over 7-foot Jack Nunge early, led the way with seven points in 13 minutes.
But that led to strains in other areas for OSU, primarily on the glass.
Xavier out-rebounded OSU 42-33.
“We just gotta be tougher,” Likekele said. “Coaches can’t draw nothing for us to rebound, so we gotta just be tough, box out and keep teams off the glass, man. That’s not even our identity at Oklahoma State. We don’t let teams just come in here and crash the glass. We’re always the aggressors and different things like that.
“We gotta tighten that up for sure.”
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OSU vs. Xavier men's basketball score, game recap, takeaways