Cowboy Bench Plays Huge Role In Victory

Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford has been saying for a few weeks now that it doesn't matter who starts for his Cowboy basketball team. The first evidence to validate that claim showed up in the Cowboys' 73-46 victory in the opening round of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Gallagher-Iba Arena on Tuesday.

Ford went with the same starting five he had in the season opener with Fred Gulley, Keiton Page, J.P. Olukemi, LeBryan Nash and Michael Cobbins. But instead of climbing out to huge lead like they did the first time around, the Cowboys limped to a 10-2 deficit before a few changes were made.

Markel Brown, Brian Williams and Philip Jurick all came in off the bench and provided a huge boost, eventually pulling the Cowboys back to a 17-17 tie before extending the lead to 31-24 going into the half.

At the half, Jurick had five points, six rebounds and two blocks. Brown had four points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals. Brian Williams had eight points, including two 3's and a rebound.

"It wasn't pretty but I was glad to get out with a win," Ford said. "We had some guys come off the bench that really energized our team and I thought that was the difference for us. Philip, Markel and Brian Williams, we probably would have been down at halftime if it wasn't for those three.

"They all went in there and made plays. They didn't have the mentality of, ‘Hey, we're just more talented so things are going to happen.' They made things happen. Sometimes you have to get in there and make positive plays happen; you can't just sit back and think something good is going to happen to you because you're more talented or whatever it is. You have to go in and play hard and make things happen to get things going in your direction and those three did that for us tonight."

The Cowboys kept theird foot on the gas in the second half and received a major lift from J.P. Olukemi, who had 12 of his 15 points after the break on their way to outscoring the Lions by 20 in the second session.

But again, it was the trio of Jurick, Brown and Williams that got things moving the right way for the Cowboys on Tuesday.

Jurick had easily his best performance in four outings, including the two exhibition games, finishing with seven points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. His presence changed UAPB's approach in the lane, as well, which shouldn't go unnoticed. Williams was the Cowboys' second leading scorer with 12 points and did it on 4-of-6 shooting with six rebounds. Brown finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.

"We started of slow but the three of us came in and brought the team energy," Brown. "It's true (that it doesn't matter who starts), we have a lot of depth and it's good to have players that could be starters sitting on the bench."

Jurick immediately piped in and added: "We're a very unselfish team and I think it doesn't matter to us who starts when most teams get hyped up about that type of thing. What matters to us is who finishes and who wins."

The bench outscored the starters 38-32 with six points from Cezar Guerrero and three from Reger Dowell.

Michael Cobbins had one point and seven rebounds and Fred Gulley had three points and one assist. Keiton Page had 10 points but again struggled from the floor, shooting 4-of-12, including just 2-of-7 from 3. He is now 2-for-13 on the season behind the arc. Le'Bryan Nash had five points and five rebounds on 2-of-8 shooting.

When the starters struggle like they did tonight at times it's important to get that level of quality from the bench and, as Ford has been saying, it doesn't matter who starts. All that matters is what players do with minutes they receive.

"It doesn't matter; it really doesn't, more than probably any team I've ever had," Ford said. "As all of our guys know, everybody is going to have an opportunity to get put in there. You're going to get put in because I am going to sub. All five starters are going to come out at some point because they need to rest. If you get in there and play well, you're going to stay in there because there is not any one individual on our team to this point that has shown me, ‘Hey, I've got to have you in there. Everybody will have their opportunity and those three guys played their way into more minutes."

OSU plays UT-San Antonio, who beat Oral Roberts 78-77 to advance, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Gallagher-Iba.

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