Jawun Evans was sitting on the bench. Phil Forte was hurting and only scored three points. But Oklahoma State’s freshmen – Brandon Averette, Thomas Dziagwa and Lindy Waters – made the plays down the stretch to help the Cowboys to a 71-67 victory over Tulsa on Saturday at the Reynolds Center in Tulsa.
With Evans not in uniform while nursing a bruised left shoulder that he suffered in Thursday’s practice, Averette got the first start of his college career and he was outstanding with a career-high 17 points, three assists and three steals in helping the Cowboys improve to 7-2.
“Brandon played 10 minutes our last ballgame, and now we’re asking him to play 36 or 37 minutes,” Cowboys head coach Brad Underwood said. “I’m not playing Jawun that much (in games). But not only did he do it on the offensive end, for the most part it was his defense. He got a little tired but … I couldn’t take him out. He made plays when he had to.”
But Averette wasn’t the only youngster making big plays down the stretch when Underwood had four freshmen on the floor. Dziagwa scored a career-best 11 points – all in the second half, including three crucial 3-pointers and two game-clinching free throws with 1.1 seconds on the clock.
Don’t forget about Waters, who made the biggest shot of his nine-game college career. With the shot clock winding down in a 67-67 tie game, the freshman from Norman hit a step-back 18-footer with 15.8 seconds remaining for what would be the game-winning basket.
Tulsa had a chance to tie the game again but missed a layup and Leyton Hammonds grabbed the rebound. The Golden Hurricane then fouled Dziagwa, who drained the two free throws to give the Cowboys the victory.
OSU’s freshmen (Averette, Dziagwa, Waters, Cam McGriff and Lucas N’Guessan) combined for 41 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and five steals. Jeffrey Carroll added 13 points and eight rebounds but the junior was not on the court after suffering cramps late in the game.
“I look out there at one time and I think we’ve got five freshmen on the court and we’re on the road,” Underwood said. “Brandon Averette showed what he’s about. What a great player that young man is going to be because he showed what he’s about.
“Then let’s go to Leyton, a senior. He was horrible (all game). Let’s be blunt, horrible all day, (but he) hit’s a three (to give the Cowboys a 62-60 lead). Lindy Waters wasn’t stellar but as a freshman steps up and makes a three. Thomas Dziagwa, off the bench. Thomas has got so much swagger, nothing surprises me with him. He’s got confidence.”
Mitchell Solomon also contributed seven points and seven rebounds before fouling out with nearly seven minutes still to play.
But Underwood is pleased to get a win with Evans watching from the bench and Forte going 1-for-7 from the field.
“I’m a huge, huge fan of really, really ugly wins,” he said. “I shouldn’t have played Phil, and I’d be very remiss (if I didn’t mention him). Phil wanted to play; that’s what he’s about.
“We had Phil and Jawun go down within each other in practice (Thursday). Phil did everything he could possibly do to try to play and help us. We all know what Jawun’s capable of, he’s one of the leading scorers in the country. Minus him, everybody’s roles changed, and so I knew there would be some different factors going on today.
“I thought our defense in the first half was the best it’s been all year. We denied. We guarded, (and) Mitchell Solomon was incredible. Then BA (Averette) got going in transition a little bit. Then the second half was a good, well-coached team (in Tulsa) doing what they do. They’re going to make a run. We withstood it and kind of got it back to eight, nine, 10, but could never deliver the knockout punch.”
The Cowboys return to action Wednesday night when they host Arkansas-Pine Buff at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Tip-off is 8 p.m.