By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY – Flip a coin 100, 1,000 or 10,000 times and the odds say it will wind up close to even on heads and tails. That’s why coins get flipped to make decisions.
Games between teams seeded No. 8 and No. 9 should also fall into the coin flip category. Theoretically, the teams are evenly matched. Based on that theory, the fact that the No. 9 seed entered the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship with a seven-game winning streak over the No. 8 seed was a trend that did not make sense.
Credit Oklahoma State for making sense of the nonsensical. The eighth-seeded Cowboys dispatched No. 9 seed Texas Tech, 80-62, in Wednesday night’s first round. Oklahoma State (21-11) will play No. 1 seed Kansas in a quarterfinal game at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I was concerned about this game,” said Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford – and he wasn’t talking about the No. 8 seed winning streak. “I was very happy with the way our guys responded.”
Texas Tech defeated Oklahoma State in Lubbock, a game you might have heard about. That was during the Cowboys’ seven-game losing streak. But since Marcus Smart has returned from his three-game suspension, Oklahoma State has won five out of six and played its way into the NCAA Tournament.
“I honestly think that we're playing good right now, but our best basketball is still to come,” said Oklahoma State senior guard Markel Brown, who led four teammates in double figures with 20 points.
Texas Tech made its first three shots and jumped to a quick 8-0 lead. The Cowboys responded with a game-changing, game-deciding 40-11 run. They started pressing the Red Raiders, who committed 14 first-half turnovers while making just 10 field goals. Oklahoma State scored nearly half its points (22) off those mistakes.
“We kept making unforced turnovers. We just kept giving them the ball,” said Texas Tech’s Jaye Crockett, who closed out his career with a team-high 20 points. “We knew that was something we needed to stop with the turnovers and stop being so careless with the ball. And we just went back to our old habits and it killed us in the end.”
Smart finished with six steals, the most by an Oklahoma State player in the Big 12 Championship. Five came in the first half.
“It's not just me out there,” said Smart, who also had 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. “You have Brian Williams, Markel Brown, Phil Forte, those guys up front, they're out there applying the pressure, allowing me to roam in the backfield and to come up with those steals.”
Oklahoma State also was efficient offensively. The Cowboys made 48.9 percent of their shots and were 9-of-22 (40.9 percent) on 3-pointers. Their pressure defense discombobulated the Red Raiders (14-18) offense to the point that they could never make a dent in their deficit.
“We felt like our strength was our interior play,” said Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, who finished with a losing record for the first time in 23 seasons. “But today and against good teams they find ways to double you and make other people handle the ball and now you're not as good a passing team and they take you out of your rhythm, out of your offense.”
The first-round outcome sets up a marquee quarterfinal game Thursday between the Cowboys and the Jayhawks. KU won at home, 80-78 on Jan. 18; Oklahoma State returned the favor on March 1 with a 72-65 triumph. The Jayhawks will be without the Big 12 defensive player of the year, freshman Joel Imbiid.
“Kansas is one of the great teams in the country, and they've proven it all year long,” Ford said. “You're always going to miss a player like Embiid. He's special. But they've got guys they can turn to and that can pick it up for them. So we understand the challenge is going to be an incredible challenge. “