If Only the Game Were 20 Seconds Longer!

There was so much involved in Oklahoma State's NCAA Tournament Game with Michigan, Good, Bad, and even afterwards with the future of Jawun Evans as a Cowboy. The Cowboys lost and with 20 seconds more on the clock very well could have won. With another year of Evans they could win a lot in the NCAA. For now, we'll have to wait and see. Today's game has plenty to discuss.

If only it had been about 20 seconds longer this afternoon in Indy. Sometimes you look at the result of a game and you wonder, you pick it apart, you let it keep you up nights wondering how you could have lost the game. The bottom line is that you played extremely hard, you really made a lot of plays, and you felt good about it through most of it. Unfortunately, so did the other side and in the end the other side had one more point than you did. Michigan advanced after the first round of the Midwest Region in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis over Oklahoma State 91-90 in a game between seven and ten seeds. Michigan was the seven and the Cowboys were the ten seed. It sure played like an eight-nine seed game and it could have been. What is was throughout was a see-saw affair that kept the fans in the arena and, surely, the ones across the country watching on CBS on the edge of their seats or pacing up and down their office floor on this Friday. If they were eating wings, then those wings likely didn’t go down smooth, too much commotion and uncertainty in this game. If you had a rooting interest then indigestion was on the menu not matter what flavor those wings were.

In the end, Michigan won their 11th or their last 13 games because of the same reason they’ve won so many others, the three-pointer. Michigan hit 16-of-29 three-pointers in the game and they were on fire in the second half as they hit 11-of-15 threes in the final 20 minutes.

Oklahoma State played good, did lots of good things, but just not enough. That, believe it or not has been a storyline to the Oklahoma State season. It was actually a reason to believe back when the Cowboys started out Big 12 play at 0-6. They have always done good things, just sometimes not enough.

Early in the second half the Cowboys had come back from the one point deficit at the half of 41-40 to surge in front. Phil Forte III had nailed a three-pointer and point guard Jawun Evans scored two of his team high 23 points on a successful drive to the basket, and that was followed by a Forte pass to Jeffrey Carroll, who had 19 points and the run of eight points put the Cowboys up 52-46.

"I just felt like defensively, when you get stops, get a couple stops in a row, it kind of gets your offense going," senior Leyton Hammonds said of the run. "Especially with us, we're really well in the first seven seconds of a shot clock. Once we get a stop and a defensive rebound and let Jawun do his thing, that's been our motto. We got a couple stops in a row, three stops in a row. Then you kind of start feeling it on offense. Once the ball goes in, you start getting your rhythm."

Michigan head coach John Beilein called time out and his discussion during the time out and CBS commercial break must have been math oriented on how threes are better than twos. Michigan averaged 9.4 three pointers a game this season. Oklahoma State allowed opponents, on average to shoot 40 percent from beyond the arch and the worst combination of those two absolutes from this season allowed Michigan to take control of the game following that time out.

"You run into so many problems with trying to defend Michigan, and John does a great job of spacing the floor. They have so many shooters," Cowboys head coach Brad Underwood said after the game. "It gets hard to take everything away from them. I thought the first half, we were very good at defending the 3-point line, trying to keep them in front of us. We did a great job on Walton the first half. He only had 7. But, again, the second half was -- you go 11 of 15 from the 3, that's hard to do in a gym by yourself. And they hit some hard shots. Give them credit. I'm very, very proud of these young men up here."

Muhammad Abdur-Rahkman hit an off balance shot, followed by Mitch Solomon, who was a major part of the Cowboys effort on both ends, hitting inside on a pass from Evans, but then the rain began. Star guard Derrick Walton, Jr. hit a three, Zak Irvin threw one in from way outside, Rahkman increased his range for another three-pointer. After A Cowboy spurt led by Evans with an assist to Hammonds and then a drive with a tear drop shot gave OSU the lead back at 64-62, It started again, Walton from way out and then Irvin for three.

A 12-4 Michigan run allowed the Wolverines to keep the Cowboys at a short arm-length distance. Then once the threes quit with Michigan leading 86-81, following a Walton drive to the basket, the Oklahoma State fouling began followed by desperate possessions throughout the final 39.3 of the game. The Michigan lead kept getting shorter but it was never overcome and time ran out on the Cowboys when Evans nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to make the final score 92-91.

"Really, I didn't know Brad Underwood at all," Michigan head coach John Beilein said after the game. "I have huge respect for who he is and that program. The Cowboy fans should feel lucky with the direction the program is going. Really happy for our guys. We had to make shots. Early in the game, we settled way too much. This is like seven games in a row, everybody switching every ball screen. We're used to it, but we settled a little bit."

Michigan advances to Sunday in Indianapolis to meet the winner between Louisville and Jacksonville State, likely the ACC powerhouse Cardinals. Michigan is now 25-11 on the season and their “Cinderella” story following a missed takeoff from the airport in nearby Ypsilanti to the Ann Arbor campus continues. The Wolverines left the next day for the Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C., bused straight to arena, played in practice gear and won four straight to win the Big Ten Tournament.

Oklahoma State loses their fourth in a row, Iowa State and Kansas to end the regular season, Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament, and then Michigan in the NCAA. They finish 20-13, but a heckuva a first year for new coach Brad Underwood and with Underwood’s pedigree and what he should get back from this team and what will be coming in the door the future is bright.

It was the last game for Cowboy seniors Phil Forte III and Leyton Hammonds. Hammonds fouled out with 10 points in the final seconds as he had to intentionally foul. Forte finished with 12 points. I’ve always thought that when people say that players will be remembered for helping start something, it’s a nice way to say they wouldn’t be around for the finished product. It’s like a consolation prize, but for Forte, the school’s all-time leading three-point shooter and Hammonds, it’s not. Those two really did start what is going to continue to happen next for Cowboy basketball.  

In the battle of point guards, I would call it a draw. Michigan’s Walton, Jr., had 26 points and 11 assists while the Cowboys Evans had 23 points and 12 assists. Walton, Jr., felt he won, and in fairness, his team did.

“I shook his hand before the game and he’s a good guard, but I knew during the game that I wanted to be the best guard and the best guard would win the game for his team,” Walton said. “My teammates really helped me throughout the game, but I thought in the end that I was the best guard and we won the game. “

The first half started strange and a little ominous as Evans turned the ball over on the first two Cowboy possessions. An uncharacteristic beginning for the point guard, but he and sixth-man Devon Dillard gave Oklahoma State the early lead and a position of strength in the game. An assist by Evans to Cameron McGriff followed by a Dillard jumper, a Dillard drive and powerful lay-in, and then a McGriff follow off of an Evans miss had the Cowboys up 22-15 with 8:30 left in the first half.

Michigan’s Zak Irvin and D.J. Wilson were the stronger offensive weapons late in the first half and then five Wilson free throws to end the first half helped Michigan to the one point lead 41-40 at the break. This game was not decided in the first half, it was one that had a lot going on and going both ways in the final 20 minutes.

"I couldn't be prouder of a group of guys. It's never great to have a season end. I thought we could have made some noise in this thing," Underwood summed up about a program and a team that will be talked about a lot in the off season. "Today, we just weren't good enough, and give a lot of credit to Michigan."

We all know the next big subject with Oklahoma State basketball will be Jawun Evans and whether he stays another year.

One internet report after the game came out with a report that Evans said he would most likely be back at Oklahoma State next season. I would put more stock in this quote from Evans reported by The Tulsa World's Mark Cooper, their beat writer for Oklahoma State basketball.

"I haven’t thought about it," Evans said of next year. "I’ve still got this on my mind."

I remember the song and dance when Marcus Smart announced he was staying another year. I got news for Oklahoma State fans, another year with Jawun Evans, with these players and with this coaching staff, will blow away anything even imagined when Smart declared. Evans, Underwood, and these Cowboys are something very real that can get a lot better.  

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