"You have to give them credit, because when we did tie it up at 59 they made some big shots from a distance," said ISU head coach Wayne Morgan, who's team now appears headed to the NIT after finishing the regular season at 17-12. "They made some shots with us on them. That's what being a champion is all about. They made some hard shots. But our kids in this tournament played as hard as they could, and tried as hard as they could."
ISU's second half run against the nation's seventh ranked team came as an even bigger surprise because it came with leading scorer Curtis Stinson on the bench in foul trouble. The freshman guard picked up his fourth foul with 13:30 left to play, and left the court with the Cyclones trailing by seven points.
With Will Blalock at the controls and Jake Sullivan in the midst of a 15-point second half, ISU gradually found itself back in contention. Sullivan hit a pair of shots in a 38-second span to cut the deficit to three, then later added a pair of free throws with 8:42 to play, making it 57-56. Blalock's alley-oop pass to Marcus Jefferson for a slam put a capper on the Cyclone rally and tied the game at 59.
"We felt that they couldn't stop us in transition when we ran, and most of the success that we had offensively is when we ran," Morgan said. "But you have to play good enough defense to make them miss for you to get the rebound, so that you can run. When we were able to put together some consecutive stops and come back and score, we were able to cut the lead."
Instead of forcing the ball inside on every possession, with Oklahoma State's Ivan McFarlin and Joey Graham battling foul trouble, ISU mostly relied on Sullivan's steady play from the outside. Jackson Vroman also came to life in the final 20 minutes for the Cyclones, scoring 16 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.
"They were going to me and I had it going in the second half with jump shots and plays," said Sullivan, who hit on 8-of-16 shots from the field. "That was what got us back in the game. Jackson had a huge second half, too. We did what we wanted to do. We're all Division I players, they had four fouls and probably were not going to foul again."
ISU's new-found momentum against the top-seeded Cowboys, however, would not last. John Lucas hit a driving layup in transition with 6:53 remaining to put OSU back on top. The point guard added a 3-pointer 32 seconds later for a 64-59 advantage. McFarlin battled through his foul problems to add a pair of layups, which put the Cowboys up 72-63 with 4:03 remaining.
Oklahoma State's run pretty much sealed the end of ISU's run in Dallas.
"We knew that they would make a late surge, but we just had to keep shooting and stay focused," said Lucas, who scored 23 points. "We knew that if we stayed together as a team, like we have all year that we would come out on top." A big part of the Cowboys' strategy involved taking Stinson out of the game. One day after hitting on 11-of-13 shots from the field in ISU's win over K-State, Stinson only converted on three of his 11 attempts Friday and finished with seven points.
A severely sprained left hand appeared to be a target for OSU defenders, according to Stinson.
"They played very aggressive, and tried to grab on to me to get me frustrated," he said. "By them grabbing me and hitting my hand, it did get me a little frustrated in the first half. But I had to keep my composure, went to the sideline and let my teammates do it."
Morgan held back his true thoughts on Stinson's treatment.
"(OSU) did a good job," he said. "That's all I'll say, because I'd have to go into an area I could get fined for and I don't want to get fined. You can figure that out."
But regardless of how the Cowboys handled Stinson, there wasn't much ISU could have done about OSU's hot shooting. In fact, the Cyclones out rebounded their opponent by a 38-32 margin, and only committed 13 turnovers in the game.
Those categories didn't matter as much, though. After knocking down 16-of-31 shots in the opening 20 minutes, OSU hit on a sizzling 65 percent in the second half. Head coach Eddie Sutton got 25 points inside from Graham, who missed just two of his 13 shots from the field. Foul trouble sent McFarlin to the bench for 18 minutes Friday, but the senior still hit all six of his field-goal attempts and finished with 12 points.
"Joey was terrific today in all aspects of the game," Lucas said. "He hates to lose just like all of us, so he decided to step up. He shot the ball really well, and rebounded well. He just turned in an all-around game. He kept fighting all the way until the end."
CN would like to thank Off Campus Apparel & Novelties for making our coverage of the Big 12 Tournament possible. If you're looking for Cyclone merchandise, chances are Off Campus Apparel & Novelties has it. You can visit Off Campus Apparel & Novelties year-round at 4090 Merle Hay Road in Des Moines.