Olukemi Leads Cowboys To Victory

STILLWATER – Jean-Paul Olukemi was not playing the past two weeks like the player Travis Ford had recruited. In four consecutive losses, the sophomore had made just six shots and scored only 20 points. But Olukemi got himself back in Ford's good graces, at least partially, by taking control in the second half, including scoring Oklahoma State's last six points, in a 70-68 victory over Texas Tech.

Olukemi's traditional three-point play gave the Cowboys a 69-68 lead with 25.4 seconds left. He then added a free throw with 7.2 seconds remaining but the Cowboys had to watch as Red Raiders guard John Roberson's three-pointer bounced off the front of the rim as time expired at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

The 6-5 sophomore from LaHabra, Calif., finished with a game-high 20 points (including scoring 10 of his team's final 17 as they rallied from a 56-51 deficit in the second half). It was his best performance since scoring a career-best 29 points in an overtime victory over Iowa State on Jan. 19.

"It was a big shot. That's why they recruit us here and put us on the floor, to make big plays," said Olukemi, who was 8 of 14 from the field and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line.

"The coaches instill in us some trust to go out there and make the plays that should be made. That was a timely basket. I just wanted to make sure I put it in and knock down the free throw because I know how critical this game was and how much it means to our season. We definitely needed a win and I was prepared to get that bucket however."

Oklahoma State senior Marshall Moses was not surprised that Olukemi stepped up his game as the undermanned Cowboys were looking to break the first four-game losing streak in Travis Ford's 95 games as head coach.

"We needed a win badly, and I think we played like we did. We fought when we got down, didn't panic and stayed calm. We knew we had guys that could make plays. J.P.'s (play) speaks for itself. He made big shots. He did what he needed to do. We played really well today," said Moses.

Olukemi has experienced in the past two weeks what nearly every player has to go through playing in a conference as competitive as the Big 12, said Moses.

"I told him I went through it as a sophomore. I saw James (Anderson) go through it," said Moses. "When you show teams you're capable of making good plays and you're a good player, it gets harder. Like Coach Ford was telling him, it's not junior college. Guys do scouting reports and they know he likes to spin, and they know what he likes to do.

"So he's maybe struggled a little bit, not because he's not good enough but just because the (other) guys were more ready for him than he was for them. He's been preparing hard the last couple of days. He's been humble and been working hard. I told him it's amazing how when you work hard and stay humble, how it pays off. Twenty points tonight and basically hitting the game winning shot and free throw, that's paying off," added Moses.

But it may still not be enough to please Ford, who admits he is probably Olukemi's harshest critic.

"I told him after the game, ‘J.P., great game but you're still not out of the doghouse yet. Good game but you're not there yet.' But again, and I've had six million, zillion, trillion individual meetings with these guys, I told J.P., ‘If I didn't think you could be a pro, if I didn't think you could be eventually one of the best players in this league, if not the best, I wouldn't be down on you.'"

The Cowboys trailed 56-51 midway through the second half before Olukemi, Moses and Matt Pilgrim rallied their team. Olukemi's fallaway jumper pulled them within 67-66 with 2:43 remaining, and then his three-point play with 25.4 seconds gave them their first lead since the seven minute mark.

"Unbelievable shot. I get onto J.P. all the time for not driving the ball, but I'm glad he didn't drive that one. He can make those pull ups. They're not the highest percentage shots but he loves shooting them," said Ford.

"He loves shooting those little fadeaways, which I'm not the biggest fan of, but he can make them. I like when he drives the ball to the basket. He has the ability to take tough shots and make them but that's not a high percentage shot. It's an incredible shot."

The Cowboys improve to 17-11 overall and 5-9 in the Big 12 with the victory, while Texas Tech falls to 12-17 and 4-10.

OSU plays its final regular season home game – and its Senior Night for senior Nick Sidorakis, Marshall Moses and Matt Pilgrim – against Baylor on Tuesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.


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