Oklahoma State & Baylor Shored Up NCAA Bids Wednesday in KCPosted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2014
Call it redemption, call it taking care of business. Whatever you call it, Oklahoma State flew by its first round test last night at the Sprint Center by beating Texas Tech 80-62. Back in October, having to suit up on the tournament’s first night would’ve seemed ridiculous for a team picked to share the regular season Big 12 title. But here the Cowboys were, needing to beat Texas Tech to set up a Thursday afternoon rubber match with Kansas. Even more, the Cowboys didn’t want to test the committee and pick up loss number twelve to a team with a RPI north of 100. Recent wins over Kansas and Kansas State cured a lot of ills, but beating the Red Raiders was the surest path to a stress-free Selection Sunday.
The Cowboys were able to do just that by attacking the basket early in the game and building a lead Texas Tech would never threaten. The Red Raiders got off to an 8-0 start, but the Cowboys punched back with a 26-5 run keyed by multiple and one’s. Attacking the basket would be a theme for the entire night, as Oklahoma State got to the free throw line 26 times in the first half, and 37 times for the game. This ability to grind out offensive possessions and create easy looks should allow the Cowboys to weather poor shooting spells in any tournament-setting, and makes them a dangerous team going forward. Marcus Smart, LeBryan Nash and Markel Brown are all in the top ten in the Big 12 in free throw makes too.
Brown was the scoring star in the first half surge (18 points, 3-of-4 from three) but it was Smart (5 steals) that keyed a defense that forced 14 first half turnovers. Smart would add one more steal in the second half, and the Cowboys would force three more turnovers. Travis Ford said after the game that his team ran a complete offense for nearly all 40 minutes, but it was the harassing defense and transition opportunities that really blew open the game. The Cowboys see a pair of primary ballhandlers this afternoon (Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason) that both have turnover percentages over 18 percent. If they badger those two like they did Robert Turner (14.5 turnover percentage, 6 turnovers) it’ll go a long way towards knocking off the tournament favorite.
With about 14 minutes left in the game Smart had a breakaway off a turnover. The Cowboys were up by 16, and he could thrown down a spectacular dunk like Brown had done in the first half. Instead, he simply laid the ball in. That kind of summed up the night for the Cowboys: just take care of business and keep the redemption story alive.
Turning to the late game, Baylor was running on a similar path going into its first round match with TCU by winning seven of its last eight games. But there was precedent for the unthinkable to happen to Baylor. In 2008-09, DePaul went winless in the Big East, only to beat fringe bubble team Cincinnati in the conference tournament opener. Winless teams have surprised before, and sometimes you worry about Baylor in a situation like this. A late game against an 0-18 conference team seems ripe for a flat performance.
But like Oklahoma State, the Bears erased any doubts of a lackluster start from the beginning. They got off to a 15-3 start on the strength of three three’s and two Corey Jefferson dunks. More impressively, the Bears dominated the paint in the first half, outrebounding TCU 23 to nine. The Horned Frogs got few easy looks around the rim, and were fortunate to knock in four three’s (including a bailout bomb with one second on the shot clock from Kyan Anderson) to avoid a complete blowout. The second half was a different story. TCU began to get looks around the basket, and didn’t get blown out on the glass (losing the battle 16-13). Baylor did just enough to never let the game get closer than six points, and probably would’ve let it slip away against a better team. But this “just enough” performance isn’t terribly concerning. The Bears had a double digit halftime lead against a team they’d beaten twice, and the Sprint Center crowd had dwindled. You can’t fault a team for not playing with optimum energy in an environment like that.
Luckily for Scott Drew it’s now merely a “what if” situation, but an interesting question is whether the Bears could have survived a loss in this game. You would have to look far and wide for a more damaging loss against a major conference opponent. But sitting at #34 in the RPI with six RPI top 50 wins and the recent hot streak the Bears likely would’ve still been fine. Even if their season ends tonight against Oklahoma, they should rest easy heading into Sunday.
Several seniors on the losing teams deserve a few words for their efforts. Jaye Crockett keyed the Red Raiders short-lived hot start, and was able to come back from a scary first half knee injury to score 20 points and grab seven rebounds. Dejan Kravic (18 points, 8-of-11 shooting) had an efficient finale, and kept the Raiders from going dark offensively when Crockett was in the locker room. In the late game, Jarvis Ray had 17 points for the Horned Frogs, including an exciting dunk that drew TCU within six late in the second half. Those three performances are not bad ways to go out for three seniors playing their final college games.