Through most of the first half, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart and Markel Brown smiled, and Smart stole the ball. They ran circles around Texas Tech's guards, and Smart stole the ball. Brown rained in threes, and Smart continued to steal the ball.
Six times Smart would rip possession away from the Red Raiders -- an Oklahoma St. record in Big 12 Tournament play -- and the Cowboys ripped their way to an 80-62 win to open the Big 12 Tournament at Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The win moves Oklahoma St. to the BIg 12 Tournament quarterfinals, where it will face No. 1 seed Kansas at 2 p.m. on Thursday.
After Tech jumped out to an 8-0 lead, the Cowboys then blew open the game with a 23-4 run over the next 7:35 to turn an unexpected start into the comfortable win most expected in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup. The Cowboys (21-11) took a 23-point lead into half time and never let Tech (14-18) within 16 in the final 20 minutes. The Red Raiders could only pull within 18 over the last 8:29, but it still wasn't enough, apparently.
As the second half wore on, it became evident with each passing minute and each hard fall by a Cowboys player (including Brown and Phil Forte later) that OSU head coach Travis Ford had no interest in pulling his starters. He didn't do so until just a few minutes remained.
"We weren't rebounding the ball well. I wanted our guys to play out of that," Ford said. "I wanted them to get on a run and feel good about themselves and bring them out of the game. But, we never really -- Phil Forte made some threes to stretch it back out.
"Yes, I understand we need to rest them up, but no excuses. They're 18, 19. Whatever the next game is, there's no excuses. We need to play. I'm not going to sit here tomorrow -- you know, we don't need to even think about that, other than get our guys of their feet.
"But hey, these guys should be excited about being able to play in another game. So, not overly concerned about [extended minutes]. But, you gotta pay attention to it."
So, what it means is that a team looking to win four games in four days, supposedly,* will attempt to do so after ignoring a sweetheart situation where the key players didn't need to play more than 25 minutes max, but instead saw four guys go 31 minutes or more.
*Though I don't believe it entered the thought process, if Ford believes his Cowboys are safely in the NCAA Tournament already, getting knocked out a day or two early and getting extra rest wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.
Texas Tech was no threat, not on this night, not after the massive first-half run by OSU, and not after Jaye Crockett's first-half injury (see below) blew Tech's victory chances across the Sprint Center floor and out the door like a Texas tumbleweed.
"Jaye's our heart and soul," Smith said. "He plays with everything. He gives it everything he has."
Smith also commented on the state of the Red Raiders program after a year that saw the 23-year head coach suffer his first losing season.
"We've got to get better in a lot of areas. We certainly have to get some outside shooting," Smith said, referring to how teams were able to double Tech's posts. "So, in order for us to compete in this league, we've gotta get better just about in every position.
"[Crockett and Kravic] are both mature and older guys, but we need -- like my staff are working hard to recruit good players that I think can compete at this level. Not that the other guys can't, it's just... it's been a real challenging process to change, and to change the culture, and change the attitude about what it takes to be a winning team."
Crockett's knee okay
Tech senior forward Jaye Crockett went out in the first half with what appeared to be a serious right knee injury as he first tried to limp off the floor before being carried off by teammates. He returned in the second half, however, and wound up scoring 20 points for the sixth time (and double figures for the 25th time) this season. He also grabbed seven rebounds.
"The doctor wanted to make sure there wasn't anything torn in there," Crockett said. "Found out it was just kind of a bruised bone, bur it's fine. The doctor came, and our trainer looked at it, and they said it was fine, continue to play."
That's great news for a player who has a pro future ahead of him, according to Smith.
"He's a young man that will play at the next level," Smith said. "Maybe not at the NBA, but he's certainly one of the most gifted players I've had the good fortune to coach over the years, and he's got excellent leadership skills, skilled offensively."
No. 7 BAYLOR 76, No. 10 TCU 68
In the session's late game, one that was never really as close as the score, Baylor made the TCU Horned Frogs appear more like salted slugs as the Bears (22-10) jumped up early and coasted to a 76-68 victory to advance to the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals against No. 2 seed Oklahoma.
The Bears and Sooners will tip at 6 p.m. on Thursday. OU won both games against Baylor during the regular season.
Cory Jefferson and Royce O'Neal each recorded double-doubles, and Isaiah Austin poured in 18 points as the Bears' front line was far too tall and athletic for a depleted, defeated Horned Frogs group that had to depend on matchups like 6'2" guard Thomas Montigel getting isolated against the 7'1" Austin in the post.
Despite the size disparity and severe rebounding advantage (39-22), Baylor coasted through the game in winning by just eight.
"Happy with the win," Bears head coach Scott Drew said. "Disappointed with how we defended from the last five minutes of the first half through the second half.
"I think our guys are happy with the win, but know that we have to play better and look forward to having that opportunity tomorrow."
A nightmarish season is over for the Horned Frogs, which finished 0-18 in Big 12 play during the regular season and finished the year with 19 straight losses after beginning 9-3.
From here, it's a matter of wrapping the year and getting back to work for the 2014-15 season.
"I'll meet with them individually and collectively on March 17, and then basically we need to get healthy," said TCU head coach Trent Johnson. "So, we will start spring workouts, individual workouts, probably right after the Final Four.
"But, the main thing is the academics, getting completely healthy and resting yourself mentally and physically."
Beer Me, Kansas City
Kansas City has long been known as a fierce supporter of college basketball and its league -- whether it was the Big 8 or Big 12. Even by its lofty standard, though, the Sprint Center crowd on Wednesday night was a great one, with the building appearing at least 70-percent full -- representing all member schools -- for a couple of bottom-seed games that didn't feature any local teams.
One possible reason for the increased early-round attendance: Beer and wine are being served at Sprint Center for the first time since the Big 12 Tournament moved to the venue.
The conference and the venue both wanted to find a better way to get fans inside the arena sooner. While $8 and $8.75 (depending on the pour) beer might not sound that enticing, the amount of fans in the seats, for whatever reason, was noticeable.