The postseason is usually about two things — seniors and defense. Right now, Oklahoma State has both of those humming along in the NIT Tournament.
Seniors Jeffrey Carroll, Kendall Smith and Mitchell Solomon led the Cowboys in scoring and Oklahoma State forced 19 Stanford turnovers in a 71-65 victory over the Cardinal at Gallagher-Iba Arena Monday night.
Oklahoma State (21-14) advances to the NIT quarterfinals to face either USC or Western Kentucky on Wednesday. The Cowboys are the fifth Big 12 team still in the postseason, along with Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas State, which all advanced in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
If USC wins the Cowboys will travel to Los Angeles. If WKU upsets USC the Cowboys will host the Hilltoppers. Either way, the Cowboys will play for the right to go to New York City for the NIT Final Four.
Oklahoma State led by one point, 30-29, at the half, and Stanford had a 5-point lead at the end of the third quarter. Forwards Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis drove the offense for the Cardinal the whole night. Humphrey had 15 points and 20 rebounds, while Travis had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
So how in the world did the Cowboys survive an opponent featuring a pair of players with a double-double?
Well, Carroll for one. He led all scorers with 26 points and hit a career-high five 3-pointers in the contest. He hit a couple of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to help the Cowboys bridge that five-point deficit. The second of those threes came with 7:18 left and off a Stanford turnover, which gave the Cowboys a 2-point lead at the time. He also helped OSU build an 8-point lead with 5:03 left after drawing a foul from Humphrey that turned into a flagrant one. Following his two made free throws, Carroll drained a 3-pointer to make it an 8-point Cowboys lead.
Then there was Smith. He finished with 19 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists. That included three 3-pointers in the final 15 minutes of the game. One of those 3-pointers, a baseline jumper with 3:10 left, gave the Cowboys a 10-point lead. He scored eight of his points in the final 3:10. His other 3-pointer down the stretch may have been more important. It held off a burgeoning Stanford comeback, as his baseline jumper pushed the Cowboys’ lead back to seven points with 35 seconds left.
Finally, Solomon. Well, you know Solomon. He found himself in foul trouble and missed a significant stretch of the second half. But he still finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds in just 19 minutes. He hit a critical baseline jumper early in the fourth quarter to cut Stanford’s lead to two and tipped in a rebound with 5:43 left to push OSU’s lead to 3 points. Solomon fouled out and suffered a left ankle injury on his final foul of the game, the severity of which is unclear. But he was icing the ankle down at the end of the game.
But it was Tavarius Shine, who scored just four points, that gave the Cowboys the lead for good. His driving baseline layup with 6:15 left in the game handed OSU a 55-54 lead that it never gave up.
The turnovers were a clear problem for Stanford (19-16) and a clear help for the Cowboys. The Cowboys turned Stanford’s 19 turnovers into 23 points and owned a 16-point advantage in that category. That helped neutralize Stanford’s 16-point advantage in the paint, driven by the Cardinal’s 55-40 advantage on the glass.