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December 18, 2006Even with a short bench and foul trouble all around, Oklahoma State almost found a way to win in Nashville Monday night.
The last-second putback scored by Tennessee's Dane Bradshaw became the difference on the scoreboard, as the Volunteers became the first team to blemish OSU's previously-undefeated record on the season with a 79-77 win at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Honestly - and maybe this is just me here - but considering the situation the Pokes were facing, they could have lost by 10-12 points and probably would have earned a pass to some degree, given that Mario Boggan spent much of the second half on the bench with four fouls and JamesOn Curry fouled out of the game with 2:48 to go. Couple that with Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris also playing with four fouls and Obi Muonelo out for the season with a broken ankle, and that's a recipe for any team to get outran and overworked by a squad with more depth and rotation.
That was the case against the Vols (9-2), though OSU (11-1) managed to hang in there and actually lead the game much of the way, before falling victim to exhaustion and fouls. And, oh yeah, turnovers, which the Pokes had 22 of - 13 in the first half.
Not to discount the loss, but it was just "one of those nights." OSU had a lot going against it and still had a lead in the game until late. The Cowboys were on top with 4:30 to go in the first half until Tennessee took a 70-69 lead with about six minutes to go. OSU had the superior team, just not the superior numbers. Tennessee featured a balanced rotation of nine players, with eight of them posting 17 minutes or more in the game. And UT's top three players in terms of minutes were Lofton (35 minutes), JaJuan Smith (28) and Duke Crews (26). OSU's top three minute-eaters included Curry (34), Marcus Dove (34) and Harris (32). Boggan only had 29, but that number would have been in the mid-30s as well if not for the four issues.
Don't get me wrong, turnovers were the big issue in this game. But how many of those turnovers came from the Cowboys just being out there too long because there weren't any viable options? While that's difficult to say, some of those miscues came from being tired and not being sharp. And even so, OSU had a chance to at least tie the game on a last-second shot. They may be small in number, but what the Cowboys do have in the stable is very stout. The effort of Kenny Cooper off the bench (11 points, five rebounds) might have been his best OSU performance yet. Of course, that's balanced out by another yawner performance from Eaton, who only had six points.
The Vols have a nice team, led by Chris Lofton and his 20 points, but there wasn't anything especially spectacular about the squad. Even in losing, I still believe OSU is the better of the two teams, but that's college basketball for you. The Vols have a capable squad and were playing at home (basically) and OSU kept giving UT the ball (while the Vols only had 12 turnovers), allowing them to get some cheap baskets. That proved to be enough, as OSU was just too sloppy one too many times to be in position to have the lead in the final minutes.
Does this game sink all hope for the 2006-07 campaign? No. However, it does provide a "ghost of Christmas future" vision for Sean Sutton's posse. Being shorthanded is likely going to be a concern the rest of the way and tonight's game showed just how thin the orange line will be between playing well and winning and making mistakes and losing. This team will have to stay out of foul trouble and pace itself if it wants to be a legit NCAA Tournament contender come March.