KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Oklahoma State forward Cameron McGriff flew by to collect his sixth offensive rebound, Oklahoma's Jamuni McNeace just shook his head.
Doing the simple things, boxing out, pulling down a rebound with two hands and even jumping at the right time, seemed so perplexing for a team once ranked in the top 5. Taking advantage, OSU rode a massive rebounding advantage to a 71-60 win over the Sooners (18-13, 8-10 Big 12) Wednesday in the first round of the Big 12 tournament at Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The Cowboys (19-13, 8-10) collected 18 offensive rebounds, from six different players, to amass a 53-27 advantage on the boards and 19 second-chance points. Of those 19, 12 came in the first half, helping build a 39-28 OSU lead.
“We got back to playing defense in the second half, but you can't wait until the second half to beat a team like OSU,” OU guard Trae Young said “They play really hard, and a lot of their points came off their rebounding. You can't get out-rebounded like that and expect to win."
Still, the Sooners kept trying to land the blow that would get them back in the game.
It could have been the tomahawk slam by Kristian Doolittle two minutes after the break, but then McGriff scored OSU's next 11 to keep the Cowboys at arm's length. The nation's leading scorer (27.4), OU guard Trae Young, took a crack at it, draining three shots in a row, before assisting on two 3-pointers. But even that 14-2 run, OU's biggest surge of the game, from 14:16 to 9:41 left, had to come to an end.
Again, it was one of those little things. Young raced up court with ball in his hand and teammates Brady Manek and Kristian Doolittle on either side with only OSU forward Mitchell Solomon standing in their way. The country's leader in assists (8.7) had plenty of options, and chose a difficult one. He tossed an alley-oop to Manek, but Solomon tipped it away. The Sooners trailed by just four. Over the remaining 8:51 they wouldn't get that close again.
“I saw his man step up, and I tried to throw a lob,” Young said “I don't know what happened after that. I don't know if there was contact or anything like that. But that's been working all year. Brady goes and gets those, and I was surprised he didn't go get that one.”
Depth was a problem once again, as Young paced the Sooners with 22 points on 7 of 21 shooting, 5 of 13 on 3-pointers, adding five assists with four turnovers. For the fourth time in OU's recent slide, winning just 4 of 15, it finished with less than three double-digit scorers. In the Sooners' last game against OSU, an 83-81 loss in Stillwater, Young was the only one to reach that plateau. Before Rashard Odomes scored four of his 12 points in the final 44 seconds, it looked like OU was going to do that again.
The Cowboys had no such issues, as they passed the torch from player to player as they burned through the Sooners' defense. Guard Kendall Smith started 0 of 3, failing to score in the game's first 12 minute, but over those final eight minutes before break, he tallied nine points, hitting 4 of 6, with three rebounds carrying the OSU offense. McGriff led the charge out of halftime, leading the Cowboys with 18, but after he slowed down Jeffrey Carroll came to life, posting a double-double, 13 points and 13 rebounds, for the first time in 13 games. Five Cowboys hit from behind the arc, tugging apart OU's defense as it struggled to pull it's rebounding team back together.
A first-round exit from the Big 12 tournament for a second-straight year leaves OU with some questions. Can this team turn it around in the next week before it plays again? Will it still get a chance to do that on college basketball's biggest stage, the NCAA tournament? The Sooners have one problem. OSU, not included in many bracket projections, was fighting for its tournament life, and played like it. Even Kruger couldn't say his team played with similar resolve.
“Any time you get whipped on the boards like that, certainly they were much more aggressive,” he said. “The stats kind of speak for themselves in that way for sure.”
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