Defense Leads The Way For Cowboys

Oklahoma State is still perfect in first-round games at the Big 12 tournament. The Cowboys used a stellar defensive effort in the first half to take control Wednesday night en route to an 80-62 victory over Texas Tech in a first-round game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. OSU is now 10-0 in the first round of the conference tournament.

For those who were still considering OSU a team on the bubble to get into the NCAA tournament, head coach Travis Ford's team erased any of those doubts against the Red Raiders. Now the eighth-seeded Cowboys, 21-11 overall, get a chance to improve their NCAA résumé when they face the No. 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks in Thursday's quarterfinals. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.

The Cowboys and Jayhawks split their two regular season meetings. KU won 80-78 on Jan. 18 in Lawrence, Kan., with the Cowboys claiming a 72-65 victory over the Jayhawks inside Gallagher-Iba Arena on March 1.

"We know the challenge. It's going to be a tough game, but they're all tough this time of the year," said OSU head coach Travis Ford. "We have a lot of respect for Kansas. They're a great basketball team. We just need to go out there and play as hard as we can and compete and hopefully execute the scouting report and rebound the ball better than we did tonight because that's going to be essential."

The Cowboys were lackadaisical throughout the first few minutes Wednesday night, falling behind the Red Raiders 8-0 before Leyton Hammond's three-pointer broke the drought after three minutes. The true freshman's basket seemed to ignite the Cowboys, whose full-court pressure was too much for the Red Raiders.

Marcus Smart and his teammates took control by outscoring the Red Raiders by 31 points over the final 17 minutes of the first half to take a 46-23 halftime lead.

The Cowboys forced 14 turnovers in the first half and converted those mistakes into 22 first-half points.

"We got off to a slow start, and I wasn't happy about it but I wasn't concerned," Ford said. "Texas Tech is not a team that normally scores a lot of points, and I thought it would all balance out at some point. But I was more upset that we didn't have the energy level coming out at the tip. So we started pressing trying to get things going, and once we started scoring a few points out defense started creating some offense for us, which was key. If we'd made our free throws in the first half (the Cowboys were only 13 of 23 from the foul line) it would have been a great first half."

The Red Raiders scored the first seven points of the second half to pull within 46-30 but that's as close as they would get the rest of the way.

The 18-point margin of victory over the Red Raiders is the most an OSU team has won by at the Big 12 tourney since the Cowboys defeated the KU Jayhawks 79-58 in a quarterfinal game in 2000.

Markel Brown scored 18 of his team-high 20 points in the first half. Smart had five steals and 10 points in the first half and finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals and did not commit a single turnover.

"When he gets six steals we're pretty good, and that is a knack he has," Ford said, "but I liked the way he ran our offense. I can't think of any (offensive) possessions that we wasted tonight. As we know we've had several games where we've played really well but we go into a three or four minute stretch where we force offense. I thought he ran our team extremely well tonight; seven assists and zero turnovers."

Also scoring in double figures for the Cowboys were Phil Forte with 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting from behind the three-point line and Le'Bryan Nash with 10 points.

"I thought Le'Bryan Nash played a great game," Ford said. "He only took three shots (from the field) and got to the foul line seven times, but he made some great passes and he battled on the glass, and that's with a bum finger. We really weren't for sure if he was going to play and he was probably only 65 to 70 percent but I was really pleased with the effort he gave us."