STILLWATER — Over the past week, the state of Oklahoma redefined its goal for the season.
After narrowly missing out on the NCAA tournament field, the Cowboys are on a path to winning the National Invitation Tournament after winning the top seed last week. OSU coach Mike Boynton has been clear: doing the NIT is not the new standard for the program, but OSU will make the best of what they are given.
“It could be a kind of statement,” said Bryce Thompson of the tournament win. “We feel like we should be there, but we’re here now and we’ll take our chances.”
It’s not a situation where you feel like the Cowboys were snubbed from the field of 68, Thompson said, but more of a chance to end the season right.
“We can continue to bring it together and go out and compete,” Thompson said. “Whatever it’s about. Obviously we didn’t make it to the (NCAA) tournament but we still go out there, play hard and execute the game plan.
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And on Sunday afternoon, it showed for OSU.
Thompson posted a game-high 22 points as OSU won their second NIT game 71-60 against Eastern Washington and advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2018.
That 22 points is the second-most Thompson has scored this season, only behind a 23-point performance on New Year’s Eve in Lawrence, Kansas.
“That’s something coaches wanted to explain to me,” Thompson said after attempting 11 three-pointers on Sunday. “That I have to shoot more threes because I didn’t take many.”
It worked, and Thompson finished 6-for-11 from beyond the arc. The win propelled OSU into the quarterfinals, where the Cowboys will host either Sam Houston or North Texas on Tuesday or Wednesday night, depending on how the rest of the second round plays out.
“When we’re taking shots, we’re really hard to beat,” said OSU coach Mike Boynton. “We’re still very, very good defensively.”
Game-wise, OSU built on what worked in Wednesday’s win over Youngstown State, relying on forward Tyreek Smith and center Moussa Cisse in the paint.
Smith recorded his second double-double in as many games with 11 points and 10 rebounds and Cisse scored seven goals after struggling with foul problems for most of the game.
“I’m just having fun,” Smith said. “I just play my game as best I can.”
There were upsides in other offensive areas. OSU has been struggling with 3-point shooting lately but managed to make 45.8% of their attempts on Sunday. Thompson spotted 6 of 11 from across the arc.
“I think he missed a few today, too,” Boynton said of Thompson. “I think he could easily have done 15-17 good threes. I’m not talking about only doing hard-fought shots. I’m talking about recordings that are in rhythm.”
John-Michael Wright also assisted, dropping three, three points and becoming the third Cowboy to finish in double digits.
The Eagles (23-11) were led by senior forward Angel Allegri, who had 17 points on all three assists and managed to stay within range of the Cowboys, but came within six points of the lead in the second half.