All the Cardinal did was pummel the Pokes into submission and move onto the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship game against the No. 5 Orange by way of an 82-67 triumph over Oklahoma State.
This game was won on the defensive end. The statistics won't wow ya (44 percent shooting for Oklahoma State, 40 percent Cowboy accuracy beyond the arc), but the Cardinal forced Oklahoma State to run clock and settle for a lot of contested jumpers. How ‘bout Josh Owens switching out on that screen on the top of the key to get two steals on back-to-back possessions that led to four easy points?
But perhaps what was most impressive on the defensive front was the ability of Dawkins' perimeters to chase both Guerrero and Keiton Page off the three. After Keiton came in and knocked down two quick treys to give Stillwater State a 16-13 lead, Mr. Page only got off one more shot the rest of the game. Of course, he only played 15 minutes and was visibly bothered by his injury late in the second half, but holding him to six points as opposed to 23 in 37 minutes last year in Oklahoma was a welcome sight. And Cezar? Well, he didn't hit a three all night and was held to 3-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-2 from beyond the arc. Guerrero's most open look all game was a quick three off a Powell turnover late in the first half that clanked off the front iron and led Jeff Van Gundy to say, "That's not a good shot, Mike. That's not understanding the rhythm of a game." After coming off a performance that put the college basketball world on notice against UTSA, Cezar Guerrero was stifled by the Cardinal guards.
The end of the first half can really influence how the second half is played, and last year's game in Stillwater and this year's game at the Garden are Exhibits A and B. Exhibit A: The Cardinal lead the ‘Boys for the better part of the last stanza of the first half, but a Keiton Page three at the buzzer gives the Pokes a 34-33 edge at the break. Oklahoma State starts the second half on a 14-4 run and wins the game by 11.
Exhibit B: After Stanford sees their lead cut to five, Aaron Bright responds with a three, the Card get a couple of defensive stops and Anthony Brown hits a buzzer-beater to expand the advantage to 46-35 going into halftime. Coming out of the break, Stanford goes on a 16-2 run and never looks back.
Speaking of that second half, that was the first time we've really seen Stanford just suck the life out of a team since perhaps the 59-35 home win against Oregon State back in the 2009-10 season. Each Stanford bucket energized the defense, which would in turn energize the offense. The most deflating moment for the Cowboys came when Josh Owens spun out of a charge and got fouled as he made the layup. Then Zimmermann got the offensive rebound off the missed free throw–always a killer–that led to a Chasson Randle three that put the Card up 53-35.
But the Farm Boys didn't stop there. The defense was hungry for more stops. The rotation along the perimeter to close out on shooters was fantastic. And it would result in turnovers, air balls and missed contested jumpers. In summary, it was the first time Stanford really showed a killer instinct. When the Cardinal put their foot down, they put it on the Cowboys' throats.
So many kudos to give out, but for the sake of space and your free time, I'll make ‘em quick-hitters. First shout out goes to JO. Twenty-one points while absolutely abusing Oklahoma State down low; he was a man possessed tonight. Next one goes to AZ. Seven points on three shots, including an insult-to-injury three late in the shot clock, followed by an offensive rebound tip-in on the next possession. Also gotta love that he took yet another charge. He must leading the conference in charges taken, or be darn close.
Chasson Randle is up next for his monstrous second half. Comcast's talking heads questioned his stroking abilities in the UC-Davis game, and he more than proved a few people wrong tonight with his 3-of-5 effort from long range.
And of course, my main man A-Breezy did his thing with a couple of great takes to the rack. He showed that his top game wasn't reserved for low- and mid-major opponents.
Ahhhhh, that felt great. What a win. But there's more work to be done. And, after watching Virginia Tech give Syracuse real fits for three-quarters of the game, you have to think Stanford can give the ‘Cuse a run for their money on Friday.
Now, Syracuse is deep. Ballin' Boeheim says this is perhaps one of his most talented teams ever, and it really showed down the stretch against the Hokies. After trailing for the first 28, the Orange took off and never looked back. Fab Melo is a new man down low; his offense isn't there yet, but he has become a blocking machine on the defensive end. Any one of Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters can go off at any moment. A four-point Cardinal advantage could quickly turn into a ten-point deficit.
On paper, the Orange are the more talented team. But if the Card can give another stout defensive effort like they did against the Pokes, hit open threes again and clean up on the offensive glass against the zone, this one will go down to the final minutes. The gap between Kentucky and Stanford back in November 2009 is much larger than the one between Syracuse and Stanford this year.
As J.P. from "Angels in the Outfield" loved to say, "Hey, it could happen!"
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