It looked for a long while as if the Cowboys’ season might end in a 6,852-seat arena in Youngstown, Ohio, but the Pokes found a way to grind out a win.
Oklahoma State beat Youngstown State 69-64 in the first round of the NIT on Wednesday night. With the win, the Cowboys will return to Gallagher-Iba Arena on Sunday for a game against Eastern Washington. Here are five thoughts from OSU’s tussle with the Penguins.
1. Avoiding the Trap
The Penguins led this game for 29:44, and it looked for a while as if the disappointment of not being in the NCAA Tournament paired with being in a tiny gym in Youngstown, Ohio was going to be too much to overcome. But, credit to the Cowboys, they stuck around long enough to find a way to win.
This would’ve been an easy game to lose with Youngstown State’s ability to fill it up for 3 in the comfort of its own gym. Just ask teams like Washington State and Rutgers, a pair of Power Five teams who lost to mid-major foes — at home, no less — in the first round of this tournament.
The NIT has so much to do with mindset. With the way the Cowboys finished this season, they seemed extra susceptible to be down about everything, but they found a way.
2. Asberry Hits Big Shots
Caleb Asberry was big at the end of both halves for the Cowboys.
With 16 seconds to play in the first half, Penguin guard Dwayne Cohill hit a 3 to put his team up 37-30. The crowd went wild, and it felt as if another team was going to take a bundle of momentum into the locker room, ala Kansas in Gallagher-Iba Arena earlier this year.
But OSU rushed back down the floor and Asberry hit a 3 to cut the lead to 37-33 at the break. It was big to trim the Penguin lead, but it was also big to give the Cowboys some sort of life.
Then with less than 10 seconds to play in the game, Asberry caught an inbound pass and was fouled with the Cowboys nursing a three-point lead. It came after an errant inbound pass ended in a Youngstown State dunk. The arena was again rowdy with the hope of a last-second upset.
But Asberry was confident as ever walking to the foul line, jawing at anyone who wanted to talk. He backed it up, going 2-for-2 at the stripe to give OSU a two-possession lead and the win.
3. Athletic Double-Doubles
Oklahoma State was clearly more athletic than Youngstown State — most evident by Tyreek Smith, Quion Williams and Moussa Cisse.
Each had a double-double, the first of the careers for Smith and Williams. Smith had 13 points and 12 rebounds. Williams had 11 and 11. Cisse had 10 and 13.
Youngstown State won the Horizon League regular season, but physically the Penguins couldn’t hand with the Pokes. OSU outrebounded the Penguins 49-34. Nineteen offensive rebounds led to 23 second-chance points for OSU.
It was the best game of Williams’ young career. The true freshman accounted for all but four of the Cowboys’ bench points. And with OSU trailing for about 30 minutes, it was the young pup who gave the Pokes a lead with a physical and-one.
It stacks solid outings for Smith, who has been one of the few sources of energy for this team as of late. Since the start of the Big 12 Tournament, Smith has averaged 11 rebounds a game.
4. More Crummy Shooting
Outside of a few bursts from Asberry, it was another rough night for the OSU guards.
Asberry, Bryce Thompson and John-Michael Wright went 10-for-31 (32%) from the field, and OSU shot just 37% from the field on the whole.
OSU missed its first eight 3-point attempts before finishing 4-for-19 (21%) from deep.
In OSU’s past seven games, the Cowboys have shot above 30% from 3 only once (their March 4 win against Texas Tech). The Pokes’ 3-point shooting has been inconsistent (at best) for much of the season, but it hasn’t been this bad.
If they can just get back to being average from 3, the Cowboys have a real shot at winning this tournament.
5. But Good Defense
The Penguins entered Wednesday scoring 82 points a game while shooting 49% from the field and 37% from 3. Then they played the Pokes.
OSU held Youngstown State’s high-scoring attack 18 points below its season average while the Penguins shot just 36% from the field and 29% from 3. The Cowboys especially locked the Penguins up in the second half, where Youngstown State was 9-for-31 (29%) from the floor and 3-for-13 (23%) from 3.
OSU’s D has won it plenty of games this season, and against the athletically inferior competition the Cowboys could play in the NIT, it can take them pretty far.