STILLWATER — Markel Brown leapt like a little boy near midcourt, not once but twice, celebrating the dunk of the night against South Florida.
Lob Stilly? Nope, and Brown wasn't even involved.
Yet Oklahoma State's most dynamic dunkster got all giddy over Philip Jurick's one-handed, putback slam, a highlight to the big man's forceful game that featured a career-high 14 rebounds, seven points and two blocked shots.
“I've never seen him get that high before,” Brown said. “I didn't know he could jump that high. I don't know what got into him on that play.”
Not drive-thru tacos, apparently. Jurick swore off those, part of an offseason shape-up to aid his recovery from a torn Achilles suffered barely nine months ago. That he's playing so soon is remarkable. That he's soaring — figuratively and literally — makes it worth asking again: what has gotten into him?
“It borders on a miracle,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford.
Much of OSU's early success has been focused on Marcus Smart and Le'Bryan Nash and Brown and others, with good reason. Jurick belongs in the picture, too, for his mere presence in the post as much as anything, but also for his effort in working to get well soon on a team otherwise lacking legitimate size and muscle inside.
Through a 6-1 start that has the Cowboys ranked No. 23 nationally entering Saturday's 3 p.m. home game against Missouri State, Jurick has provided much-needed bulk in the paint. He's averaging 3.4 points and 6.7 rebounds, numbers that don't fully project his impact.
“Philip gives you that presence,” Ford said. “He takes up space. He's hard to score over. He's a pretty good one-on-one defender against guys his own size.”
Jurick has 10 blocked shots, and many more altered shots. With the Cowboys pressuring the ball more, the 6-11 senior offers security to an attacking style.
“He's kind of our relief man,” Smart said. “Sometimes we get beat off the dribble because we're putting so much pressure on the ball, but we have him back there. He gives us a chance to clean up our mistakes.”
While injury news has spun predominantly bad for the Cowboys, Jurick's rapid progress has been one of the team's most positive developments. For a big man — Jurick stands 6-foot-11 — Achilles tears can be devastating. During honest moments over the summer, Ford wondered how much Jurick would be available this season, if at all.
But the senior center went to work with strength and conditioning coach Jake Manzelmann on the rehab, formulating an improved diet that shed 30 pounds from Jurick, aiding not only his recovery, but his agility.
“I was up to like 290 when I got hurt,” Jurick said. “I've never been that big before. I didn't even notice I was getting that big until I tore my Achilles.”
Among other favorite treats, Jurick gave up late-night runs to Taco Bell, where he'd regularly grab five tacos … as a snack.
“And a couple of other things, depends how I felt,” he said.
Looking trim at 260 pounds, Jurick is moving — and playing — better than ever as a Cowboy. Still, he claims he's only operating at about 70 percent, leaving him room for improvement as he continues to practice and play and push toward full speed.
“I think I'll be a lot better,” Jurick said.
The injury happened during a simple play in practice, with Jurick out front, handing the ball off to Keiton Page.
“I kind of cut and it popped,” Jurick said.
Now, you'd hardly know Jurick was injured.
South Florida coach Stan Heath didn't know, which only made him appreciate Jurick's Wednesday night performance in OSU's 61-49 win even more.
“That is impressive,” Heath said. “I thought his physical presence — rebounding, he had a few shots and some scores inside — that helped them a lot in this game.
“If he can continue to do that, that's a big help for their basketball team.”
No. 23 Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State
* When: 3 p.m. Saturday
* Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
* Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
* TV: Fox Sports Plus (Cox 68, DirecTV 677), FCS (Cox 271)