STILLWATER – Wednesday night in Manhattan, Kansas, Oklahoma State senior guard Phil Forte had as much fun as anybody. Sure, the Cowboys three-point sharp shooter only scored two points, both from the free throw stripe, as the Wildcats played denial from the field. Forte was oh-for-two from the field. Still, “Pistol” Phil was a happy camper, he played 32 minutes, was a part of one of the Cowboys best defensive efforts of the season and played in his first winning effort in the “Octagon of Doom”, the Bramlage Coliseum at K-State. Just in case anybody thought that the book was out on how to stop Forte, the answer Saturday afternoon against Texas Tech was no. The final answer for the day was an 80-to-63 Oklahoma State win to keep all the streaks intact as OSU enters the final week of the regular season.
Forte sparked what started out as kind of ho-hum affair with a baseline three-pointer to tie the score at seven. Then about five minutes later came down and found enough space on the wing to fire in his second three-pointer of the first half and a double-digit lead for the Cowboys at 19-9.
Forte’s best play of the first half came on defense as Niem Stevenson brought the ball up of the dribble to either pass or shoot and Forte had the clean deflection as both players went to the floor for the possession of the ball it deflected off Forte and found the open arms of Jeffrey Carroll who had easy run out trip to the rim and rattled in a slam dunk that brought the Gallagher-Iba crowd to its’ feet and the scoreboard to a 24-11 Cowboys lead.
“Phil made a great play,” started Carroll in describing that play from his vantage. “I want to say I was behind him and I was screaming, ‘Phil, Phil, Phil’ and he just popped it (ball) once and popped it twice and it got into my hands and I saw the rim and tried to take it off.”
“Yes, you can talk about him chasing down offensive rebounds in the second half, running from one side of the court to the other,” head coach Brad Underwood said when asked about Forte’s all-around game. “Phil makes plays and Phil is not just a shooter and his game has evolved so much and he has become a good drive, become a great passer. Nothing Phil does surprises me. He is a tough nut on the defensive end and what he lacks in size, he makes up for with heart.”
It got better for the senior from Flower Mound, Texas as Forte took aim again from the baseline with 6:48 to go in the half and watched the three-pointer sail through the net. Oklahoma State led 29-14. A couple of minutes later after an offensive rebound and a pass out to the 5-11 guard, he first passed up a long three, took a dribble up to the three-point line and fired in another trey and the Cowboys led 32-18.
Not done just yet with the first stanza fireworks, with just under two minutes to go the ball found Forte dead center, just off the top of the key and the prettiest stroke of the first half, plenty of arch, plenty of time for fans to poise and deliver their admiration and they did as Forte finished the first half with 15 points and Oklahoma State led 45-27.
“Brad (Underwood) has done a great job and I think they have three All-Big 12 players,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said after the game. “They have an NBA point guard in Evans, one of the all-time Big 12 players in Forte, and Carroll isn’t just one of the most improved players in the conference, he is one of the most improved players in the country.”
Forte had assistance in building the big halftime lead as Davon Dillard hit a pair of three pointers and had eight points while Carroll had much more than the slam dunk he threw down off the Forte steal. Carroll had 12 points, so that trio had 35 of the 45 first half points for the Cowboys.
Tech looked like they were done at the half, but first-year head coach Chris Beard got his team inspired and the second half was a battle. To start with, the free space and shooting opportunities on the perimeter dried up for Forte and the officials were seeing twice as many fouls on the players in white as they were the players in black.
Several times Texas Tech got the lead back inside of double-digits only to see Jawun Evans make a play of Davon Dillard hits three. Brandon Averette had a key three-pointer that blocked some Red Raider momentum midway through the second half and pushed the Oklahoma State lead to 62-52.
The Gallagher-Iba crowd really picked it up off a long defensive rebound by Averette, who fired it down to Carroll scoring on a reverse lay-up to make it 66-55 Cowboys with 7:16 to go.
The daggers came in the form of a Jeffrey Carroll three-pointer in combination with a Jawun Evans floater as he was knocked to the floor and the five points put Oklahoma State up by 14 again at 71-57.
Forte, who went empty scoring in the second half and will have one more game to collect memories in GIA a week from now against Kansas in the regular season finale, scrambled and grabbed a dive on the floor offensive rebound off a Hammonds miss at the shot clock buzzer to keep the clock on the Cowboys side.
Carroll finished with 17 points to lead the Cowboys, Evans, with his strong second half drew even with Forte as he had 15 points, and Dillard had 12 in the win. Texas Tech was led by Keenan Evans with 18 points and fellow guard Justin Gray had 16 points.
The Cowboys outshot Texas Tech 49 percent to 39 percent and outrebounded the Red Raiders 37-to-28.
Even more impressive, Oklahoma State was a perfect 22-of-22 at the free throw line, which absolutely was a huge factor in not letting Texas Tech with their defensive switches to trangle and two and box and one from coming close to all the way back in the second half.
Texas Tech drops to 17-12 overall and 5-11 in the Big 12, basically eliminating the Red Raiders from even bubble potential. They would have to run the table in Kansas City at the Big 12 Tournament.
Oklahoma State continues an amazing run off their 0-6 start to the Big 12 season with 10 wins in the last 11 games, and nine wins in their last 10 Big 12 contests. The Cowboys assure a .500 finish in the conference and notch that magic 20th win overall, always a strong indicator of a March Madness invitation.
Next up, the start of a very strong two game Big 12 and regular season final exam with a Tuesday night 8 p.m. tip in the Hilton against Iowa State. The finish comes next Saturday in front of a sellout crowd against Big 12 13-time champion Kansas.