Big 12 Tourney: One Down, Three To Go

The Oklahoma State Cowboys sent a message Thursday night to the rest of the Big 12. That message was don't expect to come into our back yard – specifically the Ford Center in Oklahoma City – and expect to walk out with an easy victory. The Cowboys delivered that message via a 54-39 thumping over Nebraska in a first-round game of the Big 12 Tournament.

The Cowboys, 21-11, got a sense of revenge over the Cornhuskers from Monday night's 85-73 loss to Nebraska in the regular season finale. Oklahoma State allowed a season-high 85 points and the Cornhuskers shot 54.2 percent from the field while making 13-of-25 from three-point range.

"I was just so mad Monday night after that game," Cowboy head coach Sean Sutton said. "I was probably as intense in that locker room before the game as I have been in a long time. I wanted them to embrace the challenge of this game and to play defense like our program has been known for."

The Cowboys did exactly what their first-year head coach wanted – playing their best defensive game of the season in limiting the Cornhuskers to a season-best 39 points and just 27.7 percent shooting (the lowest percentage ever by an OSU opponent in the Big 12 tourney). Nebraska missed its first 10 shots and didn't score a field goal until Aleks Maric's shot over David Monds from in the lane dropped with 10:19 left in the first half.

"We didn't play our best when we first played on Monday night, so we kind of had a chip on our shoulder. We wanted to come out and show the fans we still know how to play Oklahoma State basketball, and I think that's what we did tonight," said Marcus Dove, who finished with nine points, four rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal.

"We played Oklahoma State basketball defense," Dove continued. "That's the best we played defensively all year. Even though we didn't play that well offensively, but any time you play that well defensively, it makes up for it."

The Cowboys trailed 36-23 at halftime on Monday night, and saw Nebraska stretch the lead to as many as 29 before mounting a rally which trimmed it to seven late in the game. The OSU coaching staff saw something in the last 15 minutes of the game that let them believe that Thursday night's game would be different.

OSU's press caused problems for the Nebraska guards on Monday, and the Cowboys used that pressure from the opening tip in the Big 12 tourney. The Cornhuskers turned the ball over 24 times, and the Cowboys finished with 12 steals.

"As poorly as we played (Monday night), I thought we exposed an area of weakness with them that we were able to speed their guards up and pressure their guards," said Sutton. "That was the game plan from the start tonight. We wanted to pick them up on every made basket, on every made free throw and make them play the game 94 feet against our defense. I thought we really got into them. We wanted to challenge every passing lane and put heavy pressure on the ball."

Mario Boggan was the only Cowboy to score in double figures, leading a balanced scoring attack with 11 points. Dove and JamesOn Curry each contributed nine, while Byron Eaton added eight, David Monds seven and Obi Muonelo six.

The Cowboys jumped out to a 15-1 lead but the Cornhuskers made a run to pull within three midway through the first half. Muonelo, the freshman who scored a career-high 24 points in Monday night's game, answered with back-to-back baskets – a fast break lay up and a three-pointer – and the Cowboys never were seriously threatened again, thanks to the outstanding defensive effort.

"I thought their intensity was much better (tonight)," Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler said. "That's what the 24 turnovers were (caused by). It was strictly an intensity thing, in my opinion. I think you've got to play so much harder offensively when you play against good defensive teams. I think that was an example of that tonight.

"Oklahoma State is a team that is one of the most talented teams in this tournament. They are very talented. They are very big. They are very athletic," Sadler continued.

The Cowboy will get their chance to show how talented, how big and how athletic they are in Friday night's quarterfinals when they face the seventh-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (25-5). Texas A&M has won both games against OSU this season – 67-49 on Jan. 20 in College Station and 66-46 on Feb. 21 in Stillwater.

"Texas A&M played very well (in the 20-point win at Gallagher-Iba Arena) but it was embarrassing to get beat like that on our home court," Sutton said. "I think it is fresh in our mind that our fans weren't very pleased with that game. Personally, I don't blame them because we should never play that way on our home court. But they are well aware of what took place that night.

"Tomorrow night's game will be just as intense and Texas A&M is a lot better team. I don't think energy or intensity is going to be a problem," Sutton continued. "I met with them all last night, and I said, ‘This is it. There is no tomorrow. You guys want to keep playing, you have to win. You are going to regret this later in life if you don't leave it all out there on the court.'

"I said you guys have a chance to separate yourself among the teams, not only at Oklahoma State but all the teams in the Big 12. Nobody has won four straight games in this tournament. We have one down, and we still have three to go. If we can play as well tomorrow night defensively and play a little bit better on at the offensive end, then I think we will be right there with a chance to win."

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