Above The Rim: OSU Faces Challenge In Texas

On paper, the Oklahoma State matchup against No. 10 Texas on Saturday is a mismatch. The Longhorns will enter Gallagher-Iba Arena with a stable full of big men, including a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans in Myles Turner (6-11, 240) and Cameron Ridley (6-9, 285). OSU will counter with senior Michael Cobbins, junior college transfer Anthony Allen and true freshman Mitchell Solomon.

The Longhorns have five posts who are averaging more than 10 minutes a game, including 6-8, 240-pound senior Jonathan Holmes (12.1 ppg, 6.5 reb.), Turner (11.2/6.9), Ridley (8.3/4.3), 6-9, 240-pound Connor Lammert (5.1/6.4) and 6-10, 260-pound Prince Ibeh (2.5/2.9).

Those five Longhorns combine to average more than 39 points and 27 rebounds. The trio of OSU post players are averaging a combined 11.1 points and 13.3 rebounds.

“I don’t know if we’ve played anybody that has quite their size this year because they’re aren’t many teams in the country, maybe only Kentucky, that has their size,” said OSU coach Travis Ford. “Those big guys inside are McDonald’s All-Americans and get a lot of attention, but they’ve got really good guards.”

Both the Cowboys and Longhorns are coming off disappointing losses. OSU suffered a 63-61 loss on the road at Iowa State in which the Cowboys had a chance to win the game in the final seconds but had a pair of three-pointers blocked. Texas suffered an embarrassing 70-49 loss to Oklahoma on its home court.

OSU is 11-3 overall and 1-1 in Big 12 play, while Texas is 12-3 and 1-1.

One of the keys for the Cowboys will be how effective they are against the Longhorns post players, especially limiting Texas to just one shot per possession. That will be difficult as UT is one of the nation’s best rebounding teams.

The Longhorns average 43.3 rebounds per game, fourth among all NCAA Division I teams. More than 30 percent of their boards come on the offensive end. They average nearly 14 offensive boards a game (tied for 26th in the nation).

“We don’t stand a chance if we don’t rebound the basketball and get some guards in there and battle. We want to give ourselves a chance. They’re a rebounding machine in there. We’re going to have to battle, we’re going to have to block out and get everybody involved,” said Ford of the Cowboys, who average 36.3 rebounds (tied for 124th) and 9.3 offensive boards (tied for 286th).

The 6-8, 230-pound Cobbins must stay on the court for the Cowboys. The senior from Amarillo is averaging 7.3 points and 6.4 rebounds but had not made a field goal in the first two Big 12 games of the season. He was held scoreless at Iowa State, going 0-for-4 from the field, and only had two points (on a pair of free throws) against Kansas State.

“Definitely, Texas has some bigs down low,” Cobbins said. “It’s all mental. Just the will to go out there and get the job done. Just bow up down low and be physical because I know it’s going to be a physical battle down low.”

Cobbins, Allen and Solomon won’t be able to do it all by themselves. Le’Bryan Nash, who actually leads the team in rebounding with 6.5 per game, and the Cowboys guards will have to help out.

“It’s huge (that we put an emphasis on rebounding), especially with Texas,” said 5-11 Phil Forte, who leads the Cowboys in scoring (17.6) while also averaging 2.4 rebounds. “They’re so big and athletic, so we know we’re going to have to get down there and help our bigs.”

Point guard Anthony Hickey pulls down 4.5 rebounds per game, and grabbed a career-best eight rebounds against Missouri on Dec. 30. He’s also had a pair of seven-rebound games (vs. Middle Tennessee State and North Texas.

“I think Anthony Hickey has done a great job of rebounding, kind of out of his area, those long balls that lead us into transition. I think he’s done a great job of helping the bigs out so far,” Forte said.

The Cowboys coach knows his team faces a big challenge when the ball is tossed into the air at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“From top to bottom they’re one of the most talented teams in the country. There’s a reason that people talk about them going to the Final Four. There’s a reason they’ve been ranked in the top 10 pretty much all year long. It’s a very good basketball team from top to bottom,” Ford said.

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