Okla. State fends off Pitt, 63-51

Cowboys use late surge to pull away

Panthers again fall short of Elite 8

Ncaa Regional

East Rutherford

March 26, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Eddie Sutton was furious. First, the Oklahoma State coach pulled his leading scorer, Tony Allen. Then, after giving Allen an earful and getting him back in the game, Sutton did the same to point guard John Lucas.

The message got through, and so did the No. 2-seeded Cowboys.

With a 63-51 victory over third-seeded Pittsburgh in their NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game at the Continental Airlines Arena, Oklahoma State advanced to tomorrow's East Rutherford regional final against No. 1 seed Saint Joseph's.

The Cowboys erased a three-point deficit and took the lead by scoring nine straight points midway through the second half and, after the Panthers briefly tied the game at 42, Oklahoma State (30-3) gained control for good with a 17-5 run that ultimately ended the season for Pittsburgh (31-5).

Allen led the Cowboys with 23 points, but junior forward Joey Graham was the unsung hero. He scored three crucial baskets during the game-breaking run and helped offset the fact that Lucas was held scoreless for most of the second half and finished with just seven points.

Oklahoma State was able to get into its running game in the second half by taking over the defensive boards after being badly out-rebounded in the first half. The Cowboys also were able to find their open shooters after making just one assist before halftime.

"Coach had told us that if we didn't rebound, we're going home," said Allen, who also led the Cowboys with seven rebounds and three blocks. "So I guess we took it as a challenge and just tried to compete."

It will mark Oklahoma State's third appearance in the Elite Eight in 14 years under Sutton and the first since 2000, when the Cowboys lost to Florida. Sutton has taken teams this far six times and last made the Final Four in 1995, when Oklahoma State lost to eventual champion UCLA in the semifinals in Seattle.

"I'm very proud of this basketball team and where it is today," Sutton said, but that wasn't the case when he went to his team's dressing room at halftime.

Sutton's halftime talk didn't take immediate effect. But when he got in Allen's face after the senior broke a play and took a bad shot early in the second half, and later in Lucas' face for forcing a one-hand floater from about 12 feet, the Cowboys started listening to their 68-year-old coach.

"That's Coach's style," Allen said. "He always tells us that the bench is a good motivator."

The players on Oklahoma State's bench also helped wear down Pitt. The Panthers appeared to tire, shot 36.2 percent (21-for-58) and continually missed shots down the stretch.

Sophomore guard Carl Krauser led the Panthers with 15 points, but he didn't score a basket after tying the score at 42 with 7:51 left in the game and missed 11 of 17 shots, including 0-for-6 on three-pointers. Senior guard Julius Page was 2-for-11 and freshman center Chris Taft missed several short-range shots.

"Oklahoma State is obviously a very good team, played good defense, and it's just one of those days where it just caught up with us as far as not executing and not getting the shots we wanted," said first-year Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon.

There was one critical possession in the second half that seemed to turn the game in Oklahoma State's favor. With the Cowboys leading 44-42 after an off-balance jumper in the lane by Graham, Pittsburgh's Chevon Troutman was called for traveling after being knocked to the ground after a defensive rebound. Allen then scored.

"The refs called a travel and that's just what happened," Pittsburgh guard Jaron Brown said. "It was very frustrating because I know it's my last game to play and we got beat."

In the first half, the Panthers did a good job shutting down Oklahoma State's running game, and Lucas in particular.

Lucas took one shot in the first 10 minutes, and that was swatted away by Page. It made for a low-scoring game, and it played right into Pittsburgh's hands, as the Panthers led 28-26 at the half.

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