Hoops: Home court advantage? Not this year

For UT's sake, Wednesday night's game probably should have been played in Stillwater. Or Columbia. Or College Station. Heck, a high school gym in Norman couldn't have been any worse than the Erwin Center, where the Horns are now a miserable 3-4 in Big 12 play this season after Oklahoma State waltzed off with an 85-80 win.

"When you don't play any harder than we played, you don't deserve to win," Rick Barnes said post-game. "(Oklahoma State) played harder and they deserved to win."

The Texas head coach said he talked to the team before the game about three things: transition defense, keeping the ball out of paint and rebounding. The Cowboys beat the Horns in all three areas. The official stats showed OSU with 13 fast break points, but that number should be at least 20. The Cowboys scored 46 of their 85 points in the paint. And Okie State absolutely dominated Texas on the boards by an embarrassing 20 rebound margin, 47-27.

Cowboy player Fredrik Jonzen, who finished with 16 mostly easy inside points, said several things contributed to OSU's performance, not the least of which were bulletin board comments from Fredie Williams in Wednesday's Austin American-Statesman. The Horns' senior guard questioned Oklahoma State's toughness in relation to Texas, and the Cowboys came out to prove him wrong. And that they certainly did.

"If you're gonna say something, you gotta back it up," Jonzen said. The OSU forward also said the visitors wanted to "make a statement" about the incident in Stillwater between Cowboy fans and James Thomas, T.J. Ford and Royal Ivey late in the Longhorns' 70-61 win on Jan. 5, calling the actions of the UT players there "wrong." Add to that the desire to get coach Eddie Sutton his 700th win and break OSU's Erwin Center winless streak and you've got one fired up team.

Williams' comments led to a fiery afternoon with his coach.

"That really bothered me," Barnes said of his senior point guard's verbal gaffe. "I walked our team into (OSU's) lockerroom four hours before the game and said, This is what's gonna be on their board. It really bothered me. It bothers me that twice this year we've had guys say things that were not necessary. I could say that's part of being a young team but the comment wasn't made by a young player."

Barnes' list of bothers didn't stop there.

"My whole thing with our team right now is getting better," he said. "We can't control anything other than our effort and energy and tonight we didn't do that. If we think that people are gonna come in here and roll over, they're not going to do it. (Oklahoma State) is the 16th-ranked team. They have been all year. We're the underdog but we didn't play like that."

The loss drops the Horns back into a three-way tie for third in the conference race with OSU (21-6 overall) and Texas Tech (19-6 overall) at 8-5 in Big 12 play.

UT's only lead of the night came at 2-0 when Brandon Mouton nailed the Horns' first field goal attempt of the game. Things quickly went downhill from there. Oklahoma State scored the next seven points of the game and Texas trailed throughout the rest of the half. The Horns cut the lead to a bucket with eight minutes gone in the first but the Cowboys gradually pulled away. Maurice Baker's bucket in transition gave Oklahoma State a 13-point lead with 22.9 seconds left in the half before a Mouton 18-footer cut the OSU lead at the break to 11 at 43-32. The Cowboys shot a blistering 61.3-percent over the game's first 20 minutes, scoring 26 of its points in the paint. Texas, meanwhile, had trouble finding its range, making just 11 of 28 field goal attempts, including a pitiful two of 11 from the arc. Okie State's focused it's defensive effort on denying Ford driving lanes, and the Cowboys largely succeeded, limiting T.J. to two first half assists and just one point.

"In the first half, we executed offensively," Sutton said, "and we especially did a good job on Ford."

The Texas freshman point guard, though, helped the Horns cut into the Cowboy lead early in the second half, scoring six of UT's first eight points after the break as Texas pulled within seven at 47-40. Several minutes later, his 12-foot jumper with just over 11 minutes to play cut the Cowboy lead to one at 53-52, but four straight poor possessions by the Horns, two with a chance to take the lead, allowed OSU to hold on and pull away. Oklahoma State led by 11 at 74-63 with 1:11 to play before the game turned into a three-point and free throw shooting foul-fest.

Mouton led the Horns with 18 points but he made just six-of-16 from the field and three-of-10 from three-point land. As a team, Texas hit only 39.7-percent from the field for the game. Williams added 14 points and Ford totaled 12 points plus seven assists and five steals. Thomas had six points and six rebounds. Deginald Erskin finished with a big goose egg in the scoring column and just three boards. Ivey outrebounded the UT bigmen, contributing a team-high seven boards.

Victor Williams paced OSU with 20 points. Cheyne Gadson added 13 and Melvin Sanders scored 12. The Cowboys, relying largely on inside opportunities, shot 57.7-percent from the field for the game and hit 16 of 20 free throws over the final minute-and-a-half of the game.

"If you really study college basketball, when you get past the top six teams, from six to 40 there's very little difference," said Sutton, who got a ride off the court on the shoulders of his players in honor of his milestone win. "Texas is as good as anybody in bottom half of top 25. So is Texas Tech. In this league there just aren't many gimmes."

The Horns (17-9), with their schizophrenic home-away play, have proved that this season.

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