Another fun night at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Man, the grand old place is a better place to be when the home team is winning. OSU beat Kansas State 77-61 to lift its winning streak to four games and its NCAA Tournament hopes above bubble level. Here’s what I saw and heard:
* Emotional night as Travis Ford subbed out for first Marcus Smart and then Markel Brown in the waning minute. Ford later said Brown is like a son to him, and he mentioned that Brown is on track to graduate on time. Football players do that often. But not too many basketball players.
“It was very emotional, I’m sure it’s going to hit me harder a week from now,” Brown said. “I thought about it a lot, it’s going to be my last game ever at Gallagher-Iba and it’s heartbreaking because I’ve had a lot of fun during my four years here. Playing with teammates that grew into brothers and growing with them every day, I’m going to miss it.”
* Smart was honored in pregame as part of Senior Night activities. Smart, of course, is just a sophomore. Some in the KSU media camp wondered about the wisdom of such a gesture. But OSU has a football precedent — Justin Blackmon was honored in the 2011 season finale, despite his status as a junior.
I can go either way with it. Honoring a guy you know is going pro seems OK, especially if he’s contributed as much to the program as has Smart. Think about it. I know the on-court success has been disappointing — a first-round knockout last season in the NCAA Tournament; a season of turmoil this season — but Smart has put OSU back in the national spotlight, after several years of void. He’s brought recruiting interest back to the school from big-time players. He’s supplied fans with myriad highlights.
On the other hand, Senior Night is Senior Night. Senior is a special status, hard-earned. It’s for guys who have persevered through whatever difficulties arise and have remained Cowboys to the end. College is supposed to be about finishing. Grinding it out. Getting a degree. Of course, schools never reserve Senior Night for just the near-graduates. And schools also honor seniors who are junior-college transfers. So I guess I’ve talked myself into endorsing OSU’s move. If you’re going to honor a two-year guy who came from a junior college, why not honor a two-year guy who transformed the program and you know is leaving?
* Ford lauded his team’s physicality, against a rough-and-tumble foe. KSU coach Bruce Weber agreed.
“There’s not much you can say,” Weber said. “They did, I don’t know, a timeout or something and they turned it up, and they played like big boys and we didn’t react to it very well. They punked us, and took it at us. It wasn’t that we quit or anything. We just didn’t compete. They punched us and we slapped back, and that’s why we got fouls. They played very determined. They had their backs to the wall. You have to give them a lot of credit.”
* One bummer in the entire night for OSU. The Cowboys didn’t rebound a lick. KSU outrebounded OSU 41-31, and that’s almost impossible to do when you get outshot by 13 percent. And that’s what happened. OSU shot 47.7 percent, KSU 34.5.
But the Wildcats hammered OSU on the boards. K-State had 21 offensive rebounds to OSU’s six. K-State had more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds (six). KSU outscored OSU 23-6 in second-chance points, and it could have been 25-6 — a Smart rebound, which was almost immediately stripped and turned into a bucket by Nino Williams, was ruled a turnover. It could easily have been another offensive rebound.
Here’s how destructive was KSU’s rebounding. The Wildcats made six of 11 shots in second-chance situations. That means KSU made 14 of 47 on its first shot of a possession. That’s 29.7 percent.
The Cowboys controlled the game and won going away. But it still was a 60-53 game with five minutes to play. This one could have been over earlier with better rebounding.
But that’s what OSU has to live with. It plays with a short front line and a short-handed bench in terms of inside players. That’s what makes the NCAA Tournament matchups so important. More than skill or seed, size is the most important thing to know about a Cowboy opponent.
* Here’s another way to know that OSU is safely in the NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys this morning have the exact same record, 20-10, as Kansas State. And no one worries about whether the Wildcats are in. Sure, K-State has an edge with a two-game edge in the Big 12 standings, 10-7 to 8-9. But OSU has a better non-conference resume’. While KSU beat Gonzaga in Wichita, Kan., and also has wins over Georgetown, Ole Miss and George Washington, the Cowboys beat Memphis, Colorado, Purdue, Butler and Louisiana Tech, plus played Memphis a second time and lost. Not a huge difference, but a difference.
Bracketologists have the Cowboys safely in. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has OSU an 11-seed, playing Kentucky in Milwaukee (that would be fun, Travis Ford vs. his alma mater). USA Today’s Shelby Mast has OSU a 10-seed, playing New Mexico in Milwaukee. Pass the bratwurst.
“We need to continue to play well,” Ford said. “Our motivation is to make the NCAA tournament, so we can’t exhale now. I think we’re in good shape. If you blindly put any resume against ours, I think we’re in pretty good shape. We don’t need to relax. We need to continue to be motivated to play well. We have a tough game coming on Saturday against a very good Iowa State team in Hilton Coliseum, which is one of the toughest places to play in college basketball. It’s senior night for them, and I think they’re tied for second in the league as well. It’s a tough three-game stretch to end the season. We need to play well and keep it rolling through the Big 12 Tournament.”
* Against a big and rugged KSU squad, the Cowboys avoided foul trouble. Smart and Le’Bryan Nash each finished with four fouls, but they didn’t get them early. So Ford was able to rotate players without worrying about the foul situation. And a key came when Smart got foul No. 4, with 5:23 left and OSU up 60-51 (with subsequent foul shots that made it 60-53). When Smart returned at 3:16, OSU had zoomed the lead to 67-54 and had secured the game.
* Excellent two games for OSU. The Cowboys beat Kansas with Phil Forte getting two points and thus no 3-point baskets. Now the Cowboys beat Kansas State with Forte getting 23 points and six 3-pointers (on 11 attempts). One thing I love about Forte’s maturation, he’s driving the ball much more, and somewhat effectively. He’s not just a stand-on-the-perimeter marksman. That’s going to help a bunch down the stretch.
“It’s a big help to our team because Phil knocking down shots, when he sets a screen for him on the odd man, they have to help,” said Brown. “So, it’s big-time when Phil makes those shots. He takes a lot of pressure off of me, Marcus, LB (Nash), Kamari (Murphy). When he’s knocking down those shots, he’s relieving a lot of pressure for us.”
* Brian Williams is in a bad funk. He played just nine minutes Monday night, and seemed like it was that much only because Ford had to give his guys some rest. The crowd’s only disgruntledness, other than at referees, came in the first half when a K-State player, I think it was Thomas Gipson, outhustled Williams for a loose ball. Williams just sort of waited on a ball to come his way and tried to tap it. If Williams isn’t hustling, his game is null and void.
* OSU can get as high as sixth seed for the Big 12 Tournament. But OSU could stay as low as eighth. Currently, the Cowboys are in seventh, at 8-9. West Virginia is 8-8, Baylor is 7-9.
OSU closes at Iowa State on Saturday. West Virginia plays at OU on Wednesday night, then hosts Kansas on Saturday. Baylor hosts Iowa State on Tuesday, then plays at Kansas State on Saturday.
Baylor wins a three-way tie, since it swept OSU and OSU swept West Virginia. So in a three-way tie, Baylor would be sixth, OSU seventh and West Virginia eighth.
So in two-way ties, OSU would be ahead of West Virginia but behind Baylor. In a two-way tie between West Virginia and Baylor, the tie would be broken by result against teams descending from the top. Baylor lost twice to Kansas; WVU is 0-1 against KU and hosts the Jayhawks on Saturday. Baylor lost twice to OU (which figures to finish second, provided it beats TCU on Saturday), while West Virginia split with OU. Iowa State split with West Virginia but is 1-0 against Baylor. Texas swept both Baylor and West Virginia. Kansas State split with West Virginia and is 0-1 against Baylor. So stay tuned.
* OSU’s defense was excellent against K-State. That’s an underrated part of the Cowboy game. OSU in the first half often trapped the ball on the wing, disrupting the Wildcat offense. K-State’s best tactic was just to get up a shot, any shot, and hope the ‘Cats could rebound it. Defense kept OSU alive against Kansas, too.
“Defensively, when you hold a Big 12 team to 34 percent (overall) and 20 percent from the three-point line, that’s a very good defensive night,” Ford said. “Kansas State was tied for second place in the league, so it was a very good win, especially coming off such an emotional win on Saturday and having to turn around and play again 48 hours later. I was very proud of how our guys responded.”
* The Cowboys took excellent care of the ball. The Cowboys committed just nine turnovers. One came on that Smart rebound that was more of a rebounding issue. Another came on Kamari Murphy’s offensive goaltending on a shot that wasn’t going to fall anyway. One came on a 10-second violation after Ford had cleared the bench. Excellent job of taking care of the ball.
* Freshman Marcus Foster is KSU’s leading scorer. He had nine first-half points but was held scoreless in the second half, mostly by Smart. My question is, how did OSU and OU let this guy get away? He’s from Wichita Falls, Texas. I can be in Wichita Falls in 100 minutes from my house.