STILLWATER — “Who needs John Wall? We've got Jean-Paul,” blared a fan-held sign Saturday in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Don't worry. Oklahoma State basketball's newest cult hero isn't likely to get the big head, even after leading the Cowboys to a rousing 76-62 victory over 17th-ranked Kansas State. His coach will see to that.
Travis Ford said he's careful not to over-praise Jean-Paul Olukemi. Doesn't want the sophomore swingman to get too comfortable.
“Jean-Paul has a tendency to relax,” Ford said. “You gotta push him and push him.”
Olukemi pushed back against the Wildcats, a squad he had termed “bullies” who needed to be stood up to. Olukemi posted game highs of 22 points and 11 rebounds; he started and finished runs of 8-0 and 11-0 that were part of a 22-5 spree that turned around the game.
This was a huge January game for OSU: Big 12 opener, with two road games looming. The Cowboys badly needed a victory. They got that and more — a bonanza game from Olukemi in the conference opener.
This makes six straight double-digit scoring games for Olukemi. Suddenly, the Cowboys have a third scorer to go with Marshall Moses and Keiton Page, who each scored 16 against K-State.
“Very important,” Ford termed that development. “We don't have that one guy ... that James Anderson who can take any shot.”
In a game in which the other Cowboys shot just 32.5 percent from the field, Olukemi made seven of nine shots.
The OSU offense can look bad for long stretches. With 9½ minutes left in the game, the Cowboys were shooting 34 percent from the field and trailed 49-41.
But the Cowboys rarely are passive. They attack the basket, even when it's unforgiving. Olukemi drove and drew a foul. His foul shots made it 49-43. Then Page's pump fake drew a three-shot foul; he sank them all. Then Olukemi produced a three-point play in the paint, and in less than a minute, OSU had tied the game.