PULLMAN – If there is one word that describes Oklahoma State’s basketball team, it may just be “tough.”
Sort of appropriate for a bunch of Cowboys.
This crew features three inside players who weigh 255 pounds, including 6-foot-7 Marshall Moses. Their floor leader is Keiton Paige who, at 5-9, has to be tough to survive in the Big 12. And OSU’s inability to win in an opponent’s gym this season will make Monday’s NIT second-round game at Washington State, according to coach Travis Ford, “tough.”
“From everything I’ve heard, I’ve never been, obviously, to Washington State, it looks like a great atmosphere, it looks like a very tough place to play,” Ford said Friday. “Obviously, we have not fared extremely well on the road, on a true road game. So the challenge is still out there.”
The Cowboys, who are 20-13 overall after a 6-10 Big 12 season, were 1-9 in road games. But their lone win came in double overtime against LaSalle at the Palestra, not in the Explorers’ home gym, the Tom Gola Arena.
Neither OSU nor Washington State will have to travel for a third-round game, however, after fourth-seeded Northwestern upset top-seed Boston College 85-67 on Saturday. Monday’s winner will host the Wildcats.
OSU’s nine road losses include a New Year’s Eve 73-52 blowout in Spokane to Gonzaga at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“I love the challenge of it,” Ford said of traveling to Pullman.
Maybe it’s because he has the size inside to give Washington State (20-12) fits.
“They’re men,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
A group of men led by Moses.
The senior post averages 14.5 points and 7.4 rebounds a game – along with more than three fouls, meaning he’s not afraid to use his strength inside.
But the Cowboys’ improved play of late – they have won four of six, with the two losses coming at Oklahoma (three points) and against No. 2 Kansas (one point) in the Big 12 tournament – might be traced to the efforts of 6-8, 255-pound senior Matt Pilgrim.
Pilgrim had consecutive double-digit rebound games in the Big 12 tournament, then scored 12 points in a 71-54 NIT first-round win over Harvard.
“I think he’d be the first to tell you he didn’t probably play up to his ability early in the season,” Ford said. “He’s playing the best basketball he’s played all season the last three, four weeks.”
And so is OSU.
“A couple of games they played down the stretch, they were pretty impressive,” Bone said.
But if there is anyone who epitomizes OSU, it’s Page. Like his team, the lead guard has had his ups-and-downs (his assist-to-turnover ratio is just 1:1), but his toughness shows, especially at the free-throw line.
Despite playing 34 minutes a game, the junior from Pawnee, Okla., has missed only 14 of 146 free throws (90.4 percent) this season. That from a guy who shoots just 38 percent from the field and 31.1 from beyond the arc.
“He’s solid,” Bone said.
And, like all the Cowboys, well rested. Oklahoma State defeated Harvard last Tuesday, so it will have been just short of a week between games. After that NIT opener, Ford told the media he didn’t want to have to travel and play on Friday, that the weekend would be better.
Then he found out the game was Monday night.
“A week off this time of year is not the greatest,” Ford said, “but I did say I didn’t want to play Friday, so it’s one of those deals where be careful what you wish for.”
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