AMES — Oklahoma State basketball coach Travis Ford didn’t pilot his team into the Top 15 by being a dummy.
“We knew (Iowa State) would come out like a caged lion,” Ford said Wednesday night after his 13th-ranked Cowboys lost to the Cyclones, 87-76.
The Cyclones had the roars, the snarls, even the occasional ferocious-looking glare on the Hilton Coliseum court. They played like predators, and successfully went for the kill in the final four minutes.
And almost surely won their way into the NCAA tournament.
“Watch out for the Cyclones,” ISU point guard Korie Lucious said when asked what he would tell the NCAA selection committee. “We’re coming.”
You probably don’t want to draw this 20-10 team in the first round of the NCAAs if you aren’t used to facing a high-tempo team in which any starter is both a scorer and playmaker. On Seniors Night, ISU had five seniors who all brought plenty to the going-away party.
They transferred here from Penn State, Southern Illinois, Michigan State, Utah, and Cowley County Community College. They formed five-eighths of Fred Hoiberg’s player-rotation Wednesday. They did a little bit of everything, and quite a bit of a lot of things.
“I think we just came together,” said senior guard Chris Babb, who earned the top spot on ISU’s Plays of the Day list when he drove through the lane and unleashed a tomahawk jam with 9:17 left in the game. That sent Cyclone fans into orbit.
Babb, one of the college game’s more-overlooked first-rate players, was one-fifth of a senior brigade that had a can’t-lose look to them over two full hours. Lucious, Tyrus McGee and Will Clyburn all did plenty of what they’ve done all season.
Senior power forward Anthony Booker, who has been in-and-out this season, was locked and loaded this game. He didn’t score a point, but gave 14 good and vital minutes. He had six rebounds. He blocked a Cowboy shot just seconds after his first insertion in the game.
Later in the first half, fabulous OSU freshman guard Marcus Smart put up an off-balance shot on a drive. Booker swatted the ball as if it had insulted his mother, who was seeing her son play in Hilton for the first time. Booker then gave the toppled Smart a frozen stare as if to say “I’m the Cyclone senior your coach didn’t warn you about.”
“I wanted to show the guys, whether I score or not, I’m all-in,” Booker said.
ISU had a second-half lead of 14 points chopped all the way to 70-68 when Smart scored off a steal with 4:28 left. It was the third OSU basket off a Smart pick within 2 1/2 minutes. He had 24 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals. Again, fabulous.
Smart did a reverse dunk on that breakaway. But then things immediately broke away from the Cowboys. Babb swished a 3-pointer. Booker took a charge. Lucious knifed for a score. Senior, senior, senior.
Phil Forte missed a jumper for OSU, and the Cyclones again whipped the ball into their frontcourt. Eat clock? Nah. McGee hoisted a 3-pointer that was all net.
Senior. Ballgame. Big Dance.
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