Okla. State pulls through

Cowboys use late surge to fend off Pitt, 63-51, in East Rutherford semifinal

Panthers again fall short of Elite 8

Second-half rebounding, key baskets by Graham help No. 2 seed advance

Ncaa Tournament

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 sending him back into 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 No. 3 seed Pittsburgh in their NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game at the Continental Airlines Arena, Oklahoma State advanced to tomorrow's East Rutherford regional final against the winner of last night's second game between top-seeded Saint Joseph's and No. 4 seed Wake Forest.

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. Graham 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, more than eight below his average.

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

"Coach told us that if we didn't rebound, we were going home," said Allen, who also led the Cowboys with seven rebounds and three blocks. "Our guys took it as a challenge and started to compete."

Sutton's halftime talk didn't take immediate effect. But when he got in Allen's face after the senior took a bad shot, 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) overall and continually missed shots down the stretch, falling one game short of reaching the Elite Eight for the third consecutive season.

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

This marks 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.

That wasn't the case in the first half and early in the second half.

The first half looked like many Pittsburgh had played in this season. There were more fouls committed by the teams (20) than baskets made (17). And, like many Panthers games, Pittsburgh was playing at the speed - deliberate - it wanted.

The Panthers also were doing a good job shutting down Oklahoma State's running game, and Lucas in particular. He took one shot in the first 10 minutes, and that was swatted away by Page.

After the Cowboys broke out to an early 7-2 lead, Pittsburgh quickly caught up and tied the score at 9. The lead would change hands 13 times the rest of the half, and the game would be tied on two other occasions before a three-point shot by Page with 51.7 seconds left stretched Pittsburgh's lead to 28-24.

Allen made a pair of free throws to cut Oklahoma State's deficit to two at halftime.

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