Cowboys Sent Packing

MILWAUKEE – Georgia Tech made its free throws, so Oklahoma State made an early exit from the NCAA Tournament at the Bradley Center Friday night. The Yellow Jackets downed OSU 64-59 in a first-round Midwest Regional game on the strength of an amazing night from the charity stripe.

Georgia Tech (23-12) didn't make a field goal in the last 8:19 of the game, but survived by scoring its last 13 points on free throws, including 10 in the final three minutes.

Moreover, the Yellowjackets made 24 of their 25 attempts. Not bad for a team that shot 64.5 percent from the line all season.

"From the free-throw line, it was unbelievable how they shot the ball," said Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford, whose team finishes with a 22-11 record.

"And that's how you win games this time of year. You go out and do some things that you don't normally do," Ford added.

OSU did some abnormal things, too, but in a much worse way. The Cowboys, so reliant on good perimeter shooting all year, were just 6-of-22 from 3-point range.

Moreover, OSU standout James Anderson missed all six of his shots from beyond the arc and finished with just 11 points.

"We've got to make threes," Ford said. "This team has to make shots to win."

Why couldn't they? "It was just an off-night shooting," said Obi Muonelo. "I thought we got open looks and we just didn't' knock them down like we usually do."

Pair that with Georgia Tech's 32-17 rebounding dominance, and Ford was surprised the Cowboys fared as well as they did.

"If you'd have told me these numbers before the game," Ford mused, "I'd have said we'd have gotten blown out."

This was a close ballgame throughout, however. It featured 11 ties, and no team ever led by more than seven points. But OSU was still scrambling for much of the second half. The Cowboys never led in the game's final 14 minutes.

Gani Lawal paced Georgia Tech with 14 points, while Derrick Favors added 12 points and nine rebounds. Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice added 9 apiece for the Yellowjackets, and Zachery Peacock had eight.

Marshall Moses scored 14 points to lead four Cowboys in double figures. Keiton Page added 13 and Muonelo had 10. Anderson and Matt Pilgrim led OSU in rebounding with five apiece.

All week long, people talked about OSU's lack of height and how it would hamper them against the Yellowjackets, and the prophecy proved true. Georgia Tech spent most of the night pushing OSU around in the paint.

"They were much more physical," Ford said. "They were very, very aggressive."

But it was the littlest Cowboy who provided the team's first spark. After Georgia Tech's game-opening 6-0 run prompted Ford to burn an early timeout, Page broke OSU's drought with a pair of 3-pointers to knot the game.

It was nip and tuck the rest of the first half until a 6-0 mini-run by OSU gave the Cowboys a 34-27 lead. Three straight OSU steals fueled the rally, and when Page capped it with fast-break layup, it looked like OSU was finally finding its rhythm.

"I thought we were just playing on our heels," Ford said. "But our guys started making plays, diving, getting some loose balls and clutching and steals. That was pretty much our best spurt of the game."

OSU took a 36-31 lead into the locker room, but it didn't last long. Less than four minutes into the second half, the Yellowjackets had tied the game at 39-all, and the two teams were back in lockstep the rest of the way. Though the Cowboys never trailed by more than four until the very end, they never found a way to break through.

"We never got in enough spurts. We never got into a flow," Ford said.

So the Cowboys were left to look back on a season that's now over.

"I'm very proud of this team," Ford said. "I think we probably achieved a little more than people thought. We beat some really good team this year. We accomplished a lot."

And they left wanting more.

"I learned that this is the place to be," said freshman Fred Gulley, "and we're going to do whatever it takes to get back here next year."

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