By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Cancel the Missing Person report on Obi Muonelo.
The 6-5 junior, who had disappeared as a consistent contributor as Oklahoma State made its push for the NCAA Tournament, helped the Cowboys win a game that might have secured an invitation to the Big Dance.
With Muonelo coming off the bench to score 18 points and hustle for a team-high nine rebounds, the seventh-seeded Cowboys pulled away for an 81-67 victory over 10th-seeded Iowa State Wednesday in a first-round game of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Championship.
Oklahoma State's victory sets up a Bedlam Series quarterfinal. The Cowboys (21-10) will face second-seeded Oklahoma at 6 p.m. Thursday.
"Bedlam is a huge game, I take it very seriously," said Muonelo, a native of nearby Edmond, Okla. "They've beaten us twice this year and that bothers me."
Muonelo, who was a rebounding and scoring machine in the first two-thirds of the season, blew a gasket over his last 10 games, averaging just 6.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
"We had talked as a coaching staff that we needed to get Obi back," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. "He let not starting effect him a little and that's natural. He put all things aside and helped this team win. He looked like his old self, when he was playing with a high level of energy.
"We can't win without Obi."
Actually, Oklahoma State had won six of its last seven games before playing the Cyclones (15-17). But postseason requires all hands on deck.
Muonelo scored eight consecutive points - two on 3-pointers and chased down an offensive rebound that resulted in another score. That flurrly helped the Cowboys build a 62-54 lead with 8:43 remaining.
"That's me getting back to my old ways, being aggressive, trying to get every board," Muonelo said.
The opposing coach noticed.
"They made some adjustments in the second half and the most important was they played Obi more minutes," Iowa State coach Greg McDermott said. "We had trouble getting to him."
Iowa State, which normally favors man-to-man defense, played zone the entire game. The Cowboys made three of their first four 3-point attempts and got jump shot happy.
Iowa State sophomore Craig Brackins had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) at the 3:40 mark of the first half. It appeared that the Big 12's second-leading scorer was headed for a monster game and that the Cyclones might pull off an upset. Iowa State had a 38-35 lead at the break.
"The first time he got the ball, I was right there, right in his face and he made a shot," Oklahoma State's Marshall Moses said. "I knew he was the real deal. He's a big-time player. We had to try and contain him."
In the second half, however, Oklahoma State frequently double-teamed Brackins when he got the ball in the low post. That limited his offensive effectiveness and he also committed his three turnovers trying to pass against the defensive pressure.
"We were much more aggressive in the second half," Ford said. "We did more half-court trapping. And we tried to pick and choose when we were gonna double Brackins. We wanted to try and keep them off-balance."
"We let him have the ball too easy in the first half."
Oklahoma State also changed its offensive strategy. Instead of relying on 3-pointers, the Cowboys hade an effort to get the ball inside to Moses. A 6-6 sophomore, Moses pump faked, pivoted and battled around the basket for 18 points and six rebounds.
"He's out there with four shooters and that's a post player's dream," McDermott said of Moses. "He caught it deep and when we tried to help we were late. He made strong, aggressive moves."
* Oklahoma State is 7-0 in first-round games in the Big 12 Championship.
* Oklahoma State committed five turnovers, a season low.
* Even with a four-guard lineup, Oklahoma State had a 34-8 edge over Iowa State in points scored in the paint.
* Iowa State's Craig Brackins finished with a team-high 23 points. He has led the Cyclones in scoring in the last 14 games.
* Brackins became the third Iowa State with 600 points and 300 rebounds in one season. Jeff Grayer (811 points, 300 rebounds) and Zaid Abdul-Aziz (619 points, 334 rebounds) are the other Cyclones in the 600-300 club.
* Oklahoma State's Obi Muonelo was asked if the victory assured the Cowboys of a place in the NCAA Tournament. Before he could answer, coach Travis Ford held a stat sheet in front of his mouth, leaned over and whispered, "Say yes."