Can The Cowboys Keep It Going?

If you ask Obi Muonelo, he'll be more than happy to state the reason for Oklahoma State's late season turnaround. But if you think it has something to do with seniors Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris wanting to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time or the improved play of sophomore James Anderson, you would be wrong. What is it that Muonelo believes led to OSU's impressive late-season run?

Muonelo, the 6-foot-5 junior guard from Edmond, Okla., believes it is the Cowboys' self-less attitude that led to them winning eight of their final 10 games, assuring themselves of an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 2005.

The eighth-seeded Cowboys, 22-11, face the ninth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, 21-12, at 11:25 a.m. Friday (Central time) in a first-round game of the East Regional at Dayton, Ohio.

The Volunteers are facing a team that many had written off after a 25-point loss to the Texas Longhorns on Feb. 10. But there was a small group of people – the players, coaches and support staff – who knew the best was yet to come.

"This team is all about being the best you can be, and working as hard as you can all the time," said Muonelo, who was replaced in the starting lineup for the final six games of the regular season and averaged just 6.5 points and 2.6 rebounds while playing about 10 minutes over that stretch.

Even anyone on the team had a reason to be selfish and get down about the circumstances it was Muonelo. But in the Big 12 Tournament, he showed signs of playing like he was early in the season when he produced double-doubles eight times in a 15-game stretch, including a 32-point, 14-rebound performance against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

He averaged 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in three Big 12 Tournament games, highlighted by 18 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists in just 25 minutes of playing time in a crucial 81-67 victory over Iowa State in the first round.

"I think once he quit worrying about (not starting), he got back to playing the way he's capable of playing," Ford said. "Obi is a junior, he's a little bit more experienced. It's good to have some experience coming off the bench. And somebody you know can score some quick, quick points.

"He's back to rebounding the basketball. That's something we missed more than anything was the way Obi was rebounding early in the year, and now he seems to have gotten back to that. There's no question, it's easy to see what Obi means to our team."

Muonelo says, "When no one cares who gets the credit, it's amazing what can happen. That's the god honest truth. When no one cares who gets the credit, it's amazing what can happen.

"We definitely give the credit to Coach Ford because, to be honest, I've never been in a place like this year my whole life. Even when we're tired some days, he comes in energized and makes you go harder than what you're used to going. He's a grinder. I give the credit to him," Muonelo adds.

Harris envisioned playing in the NCAA Tournament every year during his college career. After all the Cowboys were coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and a trip to the Final Four in the two years before the Dallas native signed to bring his game across the Red River.

But on Friday morning he will be playing in his first NCAA tourney game, after three consecutive trips to the NIT.

"We're not taking credit for it because we put it on them, and they put it on us," Harris said when asked if it was first-year head coach Travis Ford and his coaching staff or the players who deserves the credit for the Cowboys' late-season surge.

"Basically it's teamwork. That's what team is. We have unity from the player that plays the least to the head coach. I think that's where we've grown as a team, and that's what helped us get through a lot of adversity this season."

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