Oklahoma State's game plan for the bigger and supposedly more physical Tennessee Volunteers:
The Cowboys stressed the Vols with dominant defense and even won the rebounding battle, leading to a 62-45 runaway rout Friday in one semifinal at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
OSU held Tennessee to 26 percent shooting – 13 of 50 – from the floor and owned a 40-30 edge on the boards, taking an aggressive game plan to the Vols from the outset.
“I thought it was just an incredible effort,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “Defensively, rebounding wise… obviously our best performance thus far.
“It shows you, when we rebound the basketball, we've got a chance to win games. Our offense will keep us in it. Our offensive chemistry is still not where we want it to be, and it usually never is at this point of the year. But we played very intense, very focused defense. And very intense, very focused rebounding. Against a much bigger, physical team than we are.”
OSU, improving to 3-0, advances to Sunday's 5:30 p.m. championship game against North Carolina State, which beat UMass 94-76 in the other semifinal.
Le'Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart each scored 17 points for the Cowboys and Markel Brown added 13, although that was a side story to what played out on the floor.
Known as a rugged and tough team and one of the SEC's top squads, the Volunteers had scored 42 points in the paint, while attempting just eight 3-pointers in their first-round win over UNC-Asheville.
Against the Cowboys, Tennessee managed but 10 points in the paint and was forced into firing up 23 shots from the arc, where they made but five.
Jarnell Stokes, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound power post player for the Vols, scored just seven points on 2-of-8 shooting, with four rebounds.
“Those guys are physical,” Smart said. “We wanted to come out and match their intensity. At the hotel, they were jawing at us, a little noise, trying to intimidate us. We have some great and talented players on this team, so we didn't let that get to us.
“We came out to match their intensity. And we did it. I don't think they were expecting us to come out the way we did. And we came out with the victory.”
OSU built a 30-19 halftime lead and regularly stretched the lead to 19 in the second half, ultimately owning a largest lead of 20. They did that despite playing without injured forward Jéan-Paul Olukemi and with starting post players Philip Jurick and Kamari Murphy each strapped with foul trouble in the second half. Reserve big man Marek Soucek went out with a knee injury late.
Defensively, the Cowboys incorporated some zone and went with a small lineup that featured Nash down low.
“We just had to figure things out the last seven, eight minutes of the game,” Ford said. “But I thought our kids did a great job of adjusting and I'm just very proud of them.”