STILLWATER — There is only one Big 12 arena that a road team hasn’t won in this season, and the Cowboys are heading into it Saturday.
Oklahoma State and Iowa State play at 5 p.m. Saturday in Hilton Coliseum, where the Cyclones are 12-0 this season picking up wins against teams like Kansas, Kansas State, Texas and Baylor. While playing in the 14,356-seat arena, Iowa State averages 75.6 points a game. Out of Hilton, the Cyclones average 65.5 points a game.
“I’ll put it up there with the best venues in college basketball,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “It kind of flies under the radar in that regard. Obviously people in the league know it, but I think nationally, it’s not as well known. … When they’re good, and they are, their fans respond in kind. And even when they haven’t been great, their fans have still showed up and supported. I think just the consistency of the environment, their team certainly gets boost from their crowd.”
Boynton’s first taste of Hilton came as an assistant. The Cowboys’ Brad Underwood team went into Hilton and fell 86-83.
Jawun Evans dropped 29 that night against the Cyclones, and Leyton Hammonds added 19. OSU shot 50% from 3 and 86% from the foul line, but the 14,384 in attendance that night gave Iowa State enough juice to get the win.
“Probably the best basketball environment that I’ve ever seen was the year I was an assistant coach here [2016-17] and we played on their senior night,” Boynton said. “Their seniors were Monte Morris, Naz Long, Deonte Burton and Matt Thomas. That team, they had won like 130 games by that time in their career. And I literally felt like there were people hanging from the roof in there. It was a close game, but I still remember being in there like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ It was my first time ever being there. I’ve been in a lot of places and there are very few times I walk away like, ‘It’s pretty special.’”
Boynton has had success in Hilton in his time as a head coach, winning three games and dropping two.
His last two trips to the arena have been particularly dominant, but it should be noted the Cyclones haven’t necessarily been world-beaters the past two seasons.
Last season OSU beat Iowa State 53-36 in the arena. It was the fewest amount of points the Cyclones had scored in Ames since 1948. It was such smothering defense that it didn’t matter that OSU turned the ball over 22 times and had only one player score in double figures.
The year before last was the Cade Cunningham year, but Cunningham didn’t play in that game. Instead Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe went for 22 points (still a career-high), and Rondel Walker added 20 (still a career-high). That Cyclone team finished Big 12 play 0-18.
Then in Boynton’s first year, 2017-18, the Cowboys won 80-71. Jeffrey Carroll scored 21 points, and Cam McGriff added 19. OSU led the game for 36 minutes. The win meant Carroll and Mitchell Solomon had won in every arena in the Big 12.
A third straight win in Hilton would further boost the Cowboys’ NCAA Tournament aspirations. It would also do a ton in terms of Big 12 Tournament seeding. The Cowboys sit sixth in the conference entering Saturday, and a win would move them ahead of at least Iowa State. The Big 12 Tournament is set to be a slugfest, so not playing in a 7/10 or 8/9 matchup to start the tournament could be paramount.
“The truth is one less day of grinding against a really good team that you’ve seen before,” said Boynton of the potential of not having to play the first round in Kansas City. “It matters. We don’t think about that right now. We’re just focused on trying to get ready for a really, really difficult game Saturday, but in the back of our minds, we know what’s ahead of us.”