Pokes Show They Want To Play More Basketball

STILLWATER – Travis Ford was concerned about his Oklahoma State basketball team before Tuesday's first-round NIT game after playing in the NCAA Tournament each of the past two season. He had reason to be after kicking his team out of practice Monday. But the Cowboys were ready to play and proved it with a 71-54 victory over Harvard in front of the loudest Gallagher-Iba Arena crowd of the season.

The Cowboys improve to 20-13 and advance to the second round of the NIT against either Washington State or Long Beach State, who play Wednesday night. If second-seeded Washington State wins, the Cowboys will travel to Pullman, Wash., for the second-round game. However, if No. 7 seed Long Beach State wins then OSU will host a second-round game. The day and time will be announced after Wednesday night's game.

"He just kind of said, ‘You guys don't deserve to play. Get out of my gym,'" said OSU senior Marshall Moses, who had game highs of 18 points and eight rebounds.

"So we're all out of the gym and we're trying to decide, ‘OK, do we go to the locker room? Do we go back and talk to him? If we go back, is he going to yell on us? Do we send the captains to talk to him?' We were just trying to decide what to do. We finally just decided to go back out there as a team and show him we were ready to practice. And if he yells, no matter what, show him we're ready to practice," Moses added.

"In the back of my mind I had a lot of worries," Ford said of his team which had suffered a heartbreaking 63-62 loss to No. 2-ranked Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament last Thursday. "How would we respond after the Kansas game? How would we respond in this game? Tonight they answered these questions, and I'm very proud of these guys."

The Cowboys were clearly the superior team even though Harvard entered the game with a 23-6 record and a No. 35 ratings percentage index (the best of any team in the NIT field).

OSU jumped out to a 9-2 lead and pulled way to a 41-27 hafltime lead. The Cowboys shot 54 percent from the field (their fifth-best effort of the season), while the Crimson made just 40 percent of its shots (the fourth-worst shooting performance for the Ivy League school in 30 games). Take away Keiton Page's 2-for-9 shooting performance and the Cowboys shot a sizzling 60.9 percent (25 of 41).

Moses and Matt Pilgrim were too much for the Crimson as the OSU post players combined for 30 points (making 12 of 19 shots) and 12 rebounds. Point guard Reger Dowell added 15 points for the Cowboys.

"Their guys up front, Pilgrim and Moses, those kids are strong, they're veterans, they're senior players and they played like it. They were very efficient with their numbers and I thought they had a very balanced team this evening, but those two guys up front in particular," said Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker.

"It was certainly not one of our better performances we played all year. Give a lot of credit to Oklahoma State. I thought they played with a lot of intensity. They were tough around the post area. I was very impressed with their quickness and their speed, it certainly knocked us back on our heels right away," Amaker added.

But the Crimson didn't go without a fight. Kyle Casey's breakway dunk and Keith Wright's basket from inside the paint trimmed Oklahoma State's lead to 47-39 midway through the second half.

That's when Markel Brown made back-to-back plays to ensure the Cowboys season would not end in front of the 5,342 rowdy OSU fans. The 6-3 freshman drained a jumper and then made the play of the night after a Harvard turnover, blowing down the lane for a rim-rattling dunk that brought the Cowboy fans to their feet, and the lead was back to 12.

"They scored twice right away and I thought that dunk the kid had going down the lane there was just a big momentum play," said Amaker, the Harvard head coach. "I think it certainly zapped our momentum and sort of transferred it back to their team, and (got the) crowd energized. I thought those two baskets, but that basket in particular was certainly a dagger for us."

Moses says he'll be watching for Brown's dunk on the highlight shows.

"I don't know what I can say about it that (ESPN's) SportsCenter won't. That was amazing," said Moses. "Markel has the ability to do that every time he gets to the basket.

"That's the little step from being a freshman to being a sophomore. The freshman Markel would have probably jumped high enough to dunk it, but just shied away from the defense and tried to get an and-one. But now he's becoming a man and he realizes he has athletic abilities that not many players have."

The Crimson would get no closer the rest of the way, and the Cowboys began celebrating their 20th win.

Ford said the Gallagher-Iba Arena crowd definitely made a difference Tuesday night.

"I think this played a big role. A huge, huge role. It did for me and I know it did for the team. We didn't know what to expect crowd-wise tonight. To be honest with you, we didn't expect a lot," said Ford.

"We walked out there and it was as loud as it has been. And I can't tell you how many people I have run into in the last 20 minutes that said they had never been able to come to a game until this game. Or I hadn't been to a game, but I could afford to come to this game. So many people I think were excited to be at this game that maybe couldn't have come to other games. But the energy level in this building tonight was great. Our players felt that. When I walked out there, I felt it. I went, hey, this is exciting."

The Cowboys just hope they get another chance to experience it before the season comes to a close.

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