After Quick Start, OSU's Season Ends With A Whimper

Friday, March 16th 2007, 6:24 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Moments after Oklahoma State's once-promising basketball season ended, coach Sean Sutton made a promise, one that, in the heady days of late December and early January, he probably had never contemplated having to make.

``I think we will have a lot better seasons in the future,'' Sutton said after the Cowboys' 67-64 loss to Marist in Stillwater on Tuesday in a first-round National Invitation Tournament game.

When the Cowboys started the season 15-1 and rose to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll, the talk was about how high of a seed the Cowboys might receive in the NCAA tournament. But a late-season swoon instead dropped the Cowboys into the NIT for a second straight year, and after the loss to Marist ended their season at 22-13, Sutton _ in his first season as the head coach after the retirement of his father, Eddie Sutton _ was left to lament opportunities missed.

``This group, as much as we talked about it, just never appreciated what it meant to play here,'' Sutton said. ``It is an honor and a privilege to play at Oklahoma State. We will get out of this. Believe me. We made a few mistakes in recruiting. We misjudged some things, but I am very confident in the players that we have coming back and the players that we have coming in. They are going to be our types of players, and that is, kids with high character.''

A string of offseason player dismissals by Sutton that included forward Torre Johnson and guard Jamaal Brown left Oklahoma State with only nine scholarship players to open the season, including one player, Tyler Hatch, who had previously been a walk-on. Then, promising freshman Obi Muonelo suffered a broken ankle during a Dec. 16 practice.

Still, the lack of depth didn't appear to bother the Cowboys early, as they raced to a 15-1 start, with the one loss coming on a last-second bucket by Tennessee on Dec. 18.

Three days after that loss in Nashville, Oklahoma State held off then-No. 7 Pittsburgh 95-89 in double overtime in the All-College Classic in Oklahoma City. Earlier in December, the Cowboys had beaten then-No. 21 Syracuse 72-68 in New York, which proved to be the closest thing to a road win they would have all season.

Kansas ended the Cowboys' early season run with an 87-57 rout in Lawrence, Kan., but six days later, Oklahoma State beat Texas 105-103 in triple overtime in a game lauded by many as the best of the season in college basketball. Both Texas freshman star Kevin Durant and Oklahoma State forward Mario Boggan scored 37 points, with Boggan making the game-winning 3-pointer for the Cowboys in the final seconds.

The Cowboys entered February at 18-3, but looked uninspired in a 89-77 loss at Colorado, a team that finished last in the Big 12 Conference. What then seemed an aberration soon became a trend, as Oklahoma State staggered into the Big 12 tournament having lost eight of its final 10 regular-season games, with only a double-overtime win over Texas Tech and a Senior Night win over Kansas State to show for their efforts.

Even the win over Kansas State was marred, as Boggan _ moments from being taken out of the game in the final minute and engulfed by applause at Gallagher-Iba Arena _ head-butted the Wildcats' Cartier Martin and was ejected. Sutton suspended Boggan for one game as a result.

Knowing they likely would have to win four games in as many days at the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City to reach the NCAA tournament, the Cowboys played inspired basketball. A suffocating defensive effort resulted in a 54-39 win over Nebraska, and Boggan hit the game-winner in the closing seconds as the Cowboys upset then-No. 7 Texas A&M 57-56 in the quarterfinals. Oklahoma State and Texas were tied in the final minute of a semifinal game before a 3-pointer by Durant helped the Longhorns prevail 69-64.

Oklahoma State entered the game against Marist as the No. 2 seed in the NIT's East Region, but fell behind by 17 points in the second half before rallying. Muonelo missed what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer as time expired.

Boggan, the Cowboys' leading scorer and rebounder at 19 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and David Monds, who started 17 games this season, will be gone when Oklahoma State returns to action in November.

But the Cowboys will return all their other key contributors, including guard JamesOn Curry, who averaged 17.3 points per game and hit 41.1 percent from 3-point range, defensive specialist Marcus Dove and point guard Byron Eaton.

``For next season, we are going to try to have great leadership,'' Eaton said. ``We are going to have guys who have been here awhile. We are going to set the standard for the incoming freshmen. I did not have a leader to step forward and tell me the way things were going to go.

``The guys that come in next season are going to come in under great leadership. Either you are going to get on the boat or drown.''

Oklahoma State's four-member recruiting class includes Arkansas high-school standout James Anderson, a 6-foot-6 forward; 6-foot-5 shooting guard Nick Sidorakis from Jenks; 6-foot-11 California prep school forward Ibrahima Thomas and forward Martavius Adams.

``I love the players that we have coming in,'' Sutton said. ``They are high-character, high-class kids. They are going to buy into this system. They are going to appreciate what it means to play at Oklahoma State. They are going to appreciate the tradition of this program.''