By John Helsley
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The Cowboys put the wraps on a successful nonconference schedule Monday night, blowing away from Texas-San Antonio late for a 79-63 win. OSU moved to 12-2 with a perfect 7-0 mark at home.
Still, what did we learn about the Pokes from their first month and a half? The Cowboys barrel into Big 12 play with more questions than answers.
And a new question, posed by the play of UTSA Monday night, could be critical: Can teams effectively shut down Keiton Page?
The Cowboys’ long-distance dialer has now been held to two points in back-to-back games, after the Roadrunners slowed him with the same approach Gonzaga used in its win over OSU last Friday night. Both teams devoted a man to fronting Page, effectively limiting his touches, and thus, his offensive opportunities as a shooter.
A year ago, teams were so focused on James Anderson and Obi Muonelo that Page regularly found himself with room to work. Such threats are missing this season. Against UTSA, Page managed just three shots and scored his only basket on a back-door cut.
“I think a lot of people are probably going to do that to Keiton,” UTSA coach Brooks Thompson said after the game while copping to copying the Gonzaga strategy.
Why not? If Page can’t fire daggers at defenses from the outside, opponents can commit more help to OSU’s one other consistent offensive threat, Marshall Moses inside.
Now, Thompson said he fully expected Cowboys coach Travis Ford to combat such strategies against Page. And Ford has proven more than capable at making the right moves, although he didn’t sound overly concerned with Page’s lack of scoring Monday night.
“I’m not worried about that,” Ford said. “I’m glad we won with him only scoring two points. That’s exciting for our basketball team.
“Tonight, he didn’t really need to score. I thought he did a lot of other things to help us win, which may not have been the case in the past.”
What Page — and the Cowboys — need most is some other players to emerge as consistent threats. And that may already be happening.
Matt Pilgrim is just now showing signs of returning to the force he was late last season, after a suspension and then a shoulder issue slowed his progress this season. Jean-Paul Olukemi is shwoing range as well as his explosive abilities as a slasher around the basket. And freshman Markel Brown is starting to figure things out, gaining confidence and minutes with each game.
Ray Penn is the other major factor. If Page is cornered, Penn must be more assertive as a scorer. And he’s capable. But against UTSA, he never got going to offer a glimpse of the impact he could provide, committing two quick fouls and finding himself limited to nine minutes before fouling out in a fluke outing.
The Cowboys are 12-2. And that’s solid.
And yet, it’s squishy, too, with no statement wins on which to peg optimism.
So questions remain. And it’s time for the answers.