January 21, 2009

Close, but no cigar: OSU comeback not enough

STILLWATER - For Oklahoma State fans, the most interesting part of Wednesday night's game against Missouri might have been the blow-up doll batted around the north student section.

Until the last five minutes of the game, that is.

After being down by as many as 20 points, OSU managed to force a late flurry to morph a game that teetered on becoming a blowout into a barnburner where the outcome was in doubt. But that late push proved to not be enough. At the end of the night, Mizzou had a 97-95 win for itself while OSU had plenty of questions and concerns after a bad showing in front of 8,514 of their own fans inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.

"Disappointed with the way we played tonight," said head coach Travis Ford. "I just didn't think we came out and were ready mentally. We were doing things that we thought we corrected in the first week of practice defensively - guys running into each other, gave up way too many layups to Missouri. We talked about for three days don't turn it over and the first play of the game Obi turns it over. That's just mental mistakes. Mental mistakes. We were just playing catch-up all night and that was the deal."

The Cowboys (12-5 overall, 1-2 Big 12) got off to a sloppy start which eventually doomed them. OSU committed 12 errors in the first half (19 in the game) and only generated three assists, meaning getting on track offensively was problematic. And while the Tigers (16-3, 3-1) didn't play the game of lives, it was enough to escape Orange Country with a victory.

"When you are in a hostile environment like this - it is not easy to win a game in Stillwater," said Mizzou forward DeMarre Carroll, who had 19 points and nine rebounds on the evening. "It is probably one of the toughest environments to win at in the Big 12. I think toward the end we just panicked a bit. We had great leadership from our guard play and three seniors on the court."

The final few minutes of the game were, well, crazy. With 3:50 to go, Mizzou lead by 15 points. But the Cowboys managed to hack away at that lead. With 3:00 to go, OSU was down 94-84. At that point, James Anderson hit two free throws. Then Terrel Harris notched a steal, a layup, an intentional foul call and two made free throws - effective a six-point swing. After a missed Obi Muonelo jumper, Harris rebounded the ball for another basket, making the score 94-91 with 2:13 left.

While OSU got it all the way down to a one-point disadvantage with 47 seconds to go, the Pokes weren't able to take the lead (and never held one in the game). The Tigers managed to hold the Pokes at arm's length the rest of the way.

"You know, you're not going to win games when you give teams 53 percent in your own gym and you turn it over 19 times and you only have nine assists," Ford said. "You're not going to win, you're not going to win. You know, a lot of these stats are skewed because of the last five minutes. But for 35 minutes, they really dominated us on the glass, field goal percentages, everything. We were pretty much dominated for 35 minutes."

Just how bad was the defense tonight, in Ford's opinion?

"On weakside, we were losing sight of the ball, guys are hugged up to their man, guys are not in position. Mizzou is so much faster than us tonight that we just got caught chasing them around. Rather than guarding them, we were chasing them. They were sprinting and beating us down the court for layups. We were chasing. We were always behind them rather than in front of them. Is it because they were so much faster than us? Eh they're faster, but not that much. But yeah, it was extraordinary the amount of easy shots we gave them. Extraordinary."

The Pokes kept up offensively, with four players passing double figures. Muonelo led the way with 22 points, with Harris and Byron Eaton putting up 21. Anderson scored 17.

In a night of manic ups and downs, perhaps the very end of the game was the oddest part of all. A jump ball call when Eaton thought he drew a foul and some clock confusion were just two of the finishing touches on what was a bizarre game.

"They called a jump ball," Ford said. "I mean… they called a jump ball. I don't know. I won't know until I watch the film, but I think it surprised everybody - I think it surprised Missouri. We didn't know exactly what happened. It might have been a jump ball, I don't know. It might have been. Maybe I'm a little too talkative to the refs during the game or something, I don't know. But I'm going to keep my mouth shut. So, hopefully all the officials will see that and know that hey, I'm just going to coach my team and that's probably what I need to do. But yeah, I don't know. I don't know. We had our opportunities, that's for sure. We had opportunities."

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