March 1, 2008

Five Alive: Pokes win again

STILLWATER - Just a few weeks ago, Oklahoma State was floating at the bottom of the Big 12 with a 2-7 record.

Now, 21 days later, the Cowboys are 7-7 and winners of five straight and suddenly March doesn't look quite as bleak as it did back then.

In wrestling terms, the Pokes have pulled a reversal of gigantic proportions.

That reversal to even out OSU's Big 12 mark was completed Saturday afternoon, as the Cowboys downed Nebraska 77-63 in front of 10,663 fans inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.

While celebrating a .500 isn't the norm for the OSU basketball program, this hasn't been a normal season. With that in mind, where this team was at the start of February to where they are at the start of March is something just short of amazing.

"It feels good to finally get back to .500," Marcus Dove said. We haven't been .500 (in conference) since our first game against Baylor. It feels good to go on this streak. Hopefully, we can keep it going. The season is far from over."

While the final score (and much of the game) had OSU (16-12 overall, 7-7 Big 12) up by double digits, the first few minutes of the game saw little offense from either side. It took nearly three whole minutes for the first field goal to be hit, as the Cornhuskers' Ryan Anderson sank a layup to take the early 2-0 lead. NU followed that up with a layup from Australian center Aleks Maric, making the score 4-0 with 15:51 left in the first frame. In the first 4:30 of the game, OSU looked lost offensively, missing on five field goal attempts and committing two turnovers.

But then everything changed, as Dove flew in, nabbed a steal and followed that up with a dunk to finally put the Pokes on the scoreboard with 15:12 left. That moment electrified the crowd and the team, who proceeded to reel off a 13-3 run over a span of 4:45.

From there, the Cowboys opened up a 12-point lead before allowing the Huskers (17-10, 6-8) to come back and go into halftime down by only four points.

Even the big lead was whittled down, that steal and slam from Dove set the Cowboys in motion toward their fifth-straight win.

"We needed a big play from somebody and our senior just stepped up and gave it to us," said Byron Eaton of his teammate Dove. "Our coach told us that we needed a big play, we needed to make some stops and that we needed to go on a run. And Marcus did all three in one play. That gave us a chance to get a good run going."

Head coach Sean Sutton agreed, adding that the Huskers' solid defense played a part in the early lack of offensive production.

"That was a big play because we had missed some shots," Sutton said. "I thought they played good defense. You hold four teams this year to 12 points or less in a half and that doesn't happen very often. If you do that one time in a year that's great defense. They're a scrappy, tough defensive team and they gave us problems early. And then I thought we finally hit some shots and settled down and got some things in transition, which I thought would be important in this game. They're so good in their halfcourt defense. But his steal and dunk kind of got us going a little bit."

The second half saw OSU re-open the margin, scoring 20 points in the first 10 minutes and keeping NU to only nine. From there, the Huskers tried to make inroads with their deficit, but never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way. A big key for OSU was keeping Maric from being a factor in the game. The Aussie came in averaging 15.9 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game and, while he surpassed both averages, scoring 17 points and posting 12 boards, most of that came after the game had been decided in the second half. In the first half, he scored only six points, as foul trouble kept him on the bench all but nine minutes of the first frame.

While Maric wasn't a factor in the game, Eaton certainly was. He scored 20 points and added another great effort to his recent string of solid outings. Not to be forgotten, Dove scored 17 points and Obi Muonelo chimed in with 12, including a couple of three-pointers in the second half to help the Pokes re-establish their big lead.

Now the streaking Cowboys head into Bedlam Wednesday in Stillwater riding as tall as they have all season long.

"I think these guys are starting to see that if we play like we're capable, then we can play with a lot of good teams," Sutton said. "These guys have been fun to coach and they'll be fun to watch for the rest of the season."

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