KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Travis Ford has never been through a season quite like this one, where it seemed that just about every night out somebody else went down with a devastating injury.
It’s gotten to the point where Ford and a couple of assistants were forced to practice with the Cowboys for their opening game in the Big 12 tournament Wednesday night. They simply didn’t have enough bodies to put on the floor against each other.
“For these guys to continue to play as hard as they are,” Ford said, “they’re fun to watch.”
Especially since they’re still winning.
Keiton Page scored 20 points, Brian Williams added 19 and the seventh-seeded Cowboys knocked off No. 10 seed Texas Tech 76-60 in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament.
Cezar Guerrero scored all 16 of his points in the second half for Oklahoma State (15-17), which advanced to play second-seeded No. 5 Missouri in the quarterfinals Thursday night. Markel Brown finished with 12 points as the Cowboys went 16 of 16 from the free-throw line.
“Words really can’t describe how proud I am of our basketball team,” said Ford, his voice cracking after the game. “They continue to amaze me.”
Jordan Tolbert had 16 points and six rebounds for Texas Tech, which matched a school record for the most losses in a single season. The 1990-91 team coached by Gerald Myers also went 8-23.
“They tried as hard as they possibly could try all year long,” Red Raiders coach Billy Gillispie said. “It just seems like we’ve been the coyote and the roadrunner deal, where the anvil hits you on the head, and it just seems that happened too many times.”
The Cowboys won all three meetings with Tech this season, and have won four in a row in the series. They also won for just the fourth time in 17 games away from Stillwater.
Many of their struggles were tied to an injury bug that bit hard all season. Jean-Paul Olukemi went down with a season-ending knee injury early against Virginia Tech, and Philip Jurick missed four games with a foot injury before tearing his Achilles against Kansas State.
Star freshman Le’Bryan Nash, who said late Wednesday he plans to return for his sophomore season, missed his fourth straight game with a fractured non-shooting hand.
“We’ve been through our adversity this year, our ups and downs,” Page said. “They’ve had their heads up the entire way, always wanting to keep their heads up.”
The end of a miserable season couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for Texas Tech.
Oklahoma State jumped out to a 13-2 lead in the first 5 minutes, and the Red Raiders had only managed one field goal before the 13:22 mark. Ty Nurse was picking up fouls with reckless abandon, and Texas Tech had turned the ball over six times in the opening few minutes.
Gillispie never used a timeout to stem the tide. Instead, the architect of rebuilding jobs at UTEP and Texas A&M allowed the Red Raiders to figure things out on their own.
They certainly appeared to for a while.
Tolbert went to work inside, pounding his way to the foul line and converting all five of his first-half tries. Nurse knocked down a couple of 3s, Jaye Crockett had seven boards by halftime, and the Red Raiders managed to creep within 32-27 by the time the buzzer sounded.
Their run was part of a larger 17-3 surge that resulted in a 36-35 lead.
Guerrero provided the answer for Oklahoma State.
He knocked down back-to-back 3s on the Cowboys’ next two possessions, and after a pair of foul shots by Williams, got another field goal to go. Oklahoma State kept stretching its lead, using a 15-0 run to build a comfortable cushion with 12:20 left in the game.
“I felt like I needed to bring energy and get these guys going again. I’m very thankful my guys set me up and go to open looks,” Guerrero said. “They left me wide open.”
Things finally unraveled for scrappy Texas Tech when Nurse, who had picked up four fouls in the first half, went out with his fifth at the 5:38 mark. Tolbert fouled out 30 seconds later.
“Any time you let a lead get away, it’s devastating,” Crockett said. “They were getting layups on us and that was just too easy for them, but we didn’t make it difficult enough.”
The Red Raiders should be able to take some solace from the stats.
They had a 33-21 rebounding advantage, and their bench play helped them to make those second-half runs. But they were done in by 18 turnovers and the Cowboys’ perfect foul shooting.
“We’ve come a very long way,” Tolbert said. “We never stopped, we always kept fighting. The wins and losses don’t show it, but we know we got better in a lot of aspects of the game.”
Gillispie has faced difficult rebuilding jobs before, and he should be heartened by another fact: The team that struggled to an 8-23 record in 1990-91 laid the foundation for the Red Raiders who would win the Southwest Conference five years later.
“It’s very similar to what we went through our first year at Texas-El Paso,” Gillispie said afterward. “They have the foundation set to build our program, and it will be built in a real big hurry because of the efforts of some of these players.”
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