OKLAHOMA CITY -- A little more than 72 hours after watching his team surrender 85 points in a lopsided road loss at Nebraska, Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton was determined to get a better defensive effort from his Cowboys.
Defense was seventh-seeded Oklahoma State's focus from the opening tip of its first-round Big 12 tournament battle with Nebraska on Thursday night, and defense was ultimately the deciding factor in the Cowboys' 54-39 victory.
"Defensively, we played 40 minutes about as well as we've played all year long," said Sutton, whose team forced 24 turnovers and limited Nebraska to 13-of-47 from the field (27.7 percent).
Despite experiencing their own shooting troubles and having just one player score in double figures -- Mario Boggan with 11 -- Oklahoma State (21-11) managed to do enough damage with its swarming, pressure defense to held Nebraska without a field goal for almost 10 minutes to start the game.
During that span, Oklahoma State was whistled for five fouls, but the Cornhuskers (17-14) missed their first 10 shots from the field and coughed up nine turnovers.
Sutton's strategy worked just as he hoped it would, setting the tone as the Cowboys jumped out to a 15-1 advantage.
"I didn't mind picking up those fouls early because it was a sign we were being aggressive and we really wanted to be aggressive," he said.
Oklahoma State had lost eight of its last 10 games going into the postseason, but the victory advances Sutton's team into a Friday quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 seed Texas A&M and keeps the Cowboys' hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid alive.
"I told our guys [Wednesday night], 'This is it. If you want to keep playing, this is our chance,'" Sutton said.
The Cowboys responded by rebounding from a woeful performance on Monday at Nebraska, where they allowed the Cornhuskers to connect on 54 percent of their shots in an 85-73 home victory.
In the rematch, Nebraska only managed a 6-of-24 effort during the opening 20 minutes.
"You've got to give Oklahoma State credit. They're so big and physical, and we just weren't able to withstand that kind of pressure ...," said Nebraska coach Doc Sadler.
Defensive pressure staked Oklahoma State to a 14-point advantage before Aleks Maric finally ended Nebraska's dry spell with a bucket at the 10:19 mark. That started an 11-0 Husker run that was capped by a 3-pointer from Sek Henry with 5:50 left before the half.
Two possessions later, Oklahoma State snapped a five-minute scoreless drought on a layup by Obi Muonelo, who followed with a 3-pointer that turned the tide back in the Cowboys favor. A 13-2 run -- sparked by buckets by Boggan, Dove and Curry -- helped OSU to a 30-19 halftime lead.
Oklahoma State matched Nebraska's icy shooting in the second half -- hitting only 6-of-21 attempts -- but the Huskers simply could not take advantage. The Cornhuskers were led by Maric with 13 points and 12 rebounds, but they misfired on 16-of-20 shots from 3-point land.
Nebraska connected on just 7-of-23 shots after the break and could get no closer than 11 down the stretch. The 39 points by the Cornhuskers establishes a new low water mark for first-round games in the Big 12 tournament.
- Mark Whitehead
- Gerry Pollard
- Kelly Self