STILLWATER — Oklahoma State continues to work on bringing the rowdy back to Gallagher-Iba Arena.
The defense, however, is very much in place.
The No. 23-ranked Cowboys continued their defensive ways Wednesday night, holding South Florida to 34 percent shooting on their way to a 61-49 win.
With former coach Eddie Sutton seated courtside, OSU paid the old coach's style some homage, clamping down on the Bulls to the tune of a 17-of-50 shooting night, aided by six blocked shots. The Cowboys also forced nine turnovers.
“Pretty much every time out,” OSU coach Travis Ford said, “I kept telling the team, ‘Whoever's defense is better tonight is who's going to win. This is a defensive battle.'
“Good shots were hard to come by.”
The Cowboys shot just 40 percent from the floor, yet it was enough, combined with a 41-28 rebounding edge, fueled by center Philip Jurick's career-high 14 boards. OSU has now held five of its last six opponents below 40 percent shooting. Only Virginia Tech has shot better than 42 percent against the Pokes this season.
“That's one of our main goals every time we step on the court,” said Cowboys guard Markel Brown. “We just want to guard down and focus on our defense. No matter if our shots are falling or not, defense is what wins games. That's a big thing for this team.”
Neither team's shots were falling with any regularity.
The Cowboys led 24-19 in a scuffling first half, before breaking away after intermission. They built their biggest lead at the 6:42 mark, 50-35, with Jurick highlighting an 18-9 run with a putback, one-handed jam.
Barely nine months after tearing his Achilles, Jurick has bounced back to be a contributing force inside, mostly as a rebounder and shot blocker, although he added seven points against the Bulls. Jurick actually credits the injury and a resulting 30-pound weight loss for what has been a solid start to the season.
“Losing all that weight and knowing my teammates have a lot more confidence in me this year,” Jurick said. “The injury kind of helped me regain focus.”
Jurick and Michael Cobbins combined for 13 points and 16 rebounds, while South Florida's big-man trio of Kore White, Jordan Omogbehin and Zach LeDay failed to score and totaled five boards.
“I thought Jurick really patrolled the middle, handled the glass extremely well,” said Bulls coach Stan Heath. “Between him and Cobbins and the three guys we were playing at the five, that was a huge difference, the production we got and they got.”
Marcus Smart led the Cowboys with 15 points, while Brown added 13. South Florida, falling to 5-3, got 14 points from Victor Rudd and 12 from Anthony Collins.
An estimated 6,500 watched OSU improve to 6-1 in the first outing of a six-game home stretch. The largest crowd of the season, yet well under the capacity of 13,611, didn't restore the rowdy, despite a Wednesday Twitter campaign by Ford and his players, as well as $15 tickets.
Ford did go to the end of the court following the game, slapping hands with students and thanking them for a strong showing.
“I spent the last two days in the Student Union, passing out fliers,” Ford said. “So did Marcus Smart. So did Le'Bryan Nash. We did a lot of things the last few days to give fans, especially the students, an opportunity to get into this game. And I thought they responded very, very well.
“They were here early. They were loud. It wasn't the most exciting game to watch, but hopefully they enjoyed watching us win. Hopefully we continue to get more fans at the game.
“We're a Top 25 team at this point. We're 6-1. Hopefully, we can start packing this place out. I know it would help. No question it would help. We've got one of the best arenas in the country.”