For the first time in their careers, Selection Sunday brought good news to seniors Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris of Oklahoma State. Mar. 15 is a day they will always remember as the Cowboys, 23-12 (9-7), were selected as an eight seed for the NCAA Tournament.
Slated to play the ninth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, Eaton and Harris were in a situation they weren't necessarily prepared for. A burden many wondered if either of them could handle—carrying a team that starts two sophomores, Marshall Moses and James Anderson and one freshman, Keiton Page.
Tennessee, however, seemed to be a little more prepared. Volunteer head coach Bruce Pearl was experienced in the tournament and had players that were better prepared.
Junior forward Tyler Smith was the unsung star of this inconsistent Volunteer team and, along with junior Wayne Chism and senior J.P. Prince, was one of the only players with significant experience.
Both teams played a very similar style, using a fast-paced system to put up points and rotating defenses to cause turnovers. However, Coach Pearl had something Cowboy head coach Travis Ford did not—size.
Every starter for Tennessee was taller than Oklahoma State's.
The largest difference was in the matchups for 5'8" Page, who guarded 6'2" junior Bobby Maze, and 5'11" Eaton, who guarded 6'7" freshman Scotty Hopson. Anderson was the only player who sized up well with his matchup with 6'7" Smith.
But when it came down to the wire, Tennessee's size didn't make a difference.
The 6'6" center, Moses, played one of his best games of the season. Scoring 16 points and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds, Moses proved that you don't have to be the tallest post player on the floor to be dominant.
Harris had a solid performance as well, scoring 15 points. But the difference in the game was not what anyone expected. Tennessee was missing one thing the Cowboys had—Byron Eaton.
Eaton dropped 20 points including a game-deciding three-point play with 7.2 seconds left that gave Oklahoma State a 77-75 lead.
The next challenge was attempting to get by Pittsburgh, who is absolutely loaded with interior fire power.
Led by behemoth center DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, and steady-handed point guard Levance Fields, Pitt had already been ranked No. 1 once this season and was a favorite to win it all.
The Cowboys came prepared, knocking down 10 threes in the first half and virtually shutting down Blair who didn't have a field goal until the second half. But they focused too much on Blair, as Young lit up the Cowboys in the first half keeping Pitt in the game with 23 points and finished with 32.
The score was knotted up at halftime 49-49, after Fields hit a three-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half. The Cowboys were proving to be a more difficult obstacle than many teams had expected.
Unfortunately, the Pokes went cold, only hitting two threes in the second half, while claiming an NCAA Tournament record for threes made in a game with 12.
The Cowboys, however, would not die, as Moses tied the game at 74 with a bucket in the lane. But after that, it was all Pittsburgh as they went on a 10-2 run to finish the game and move to the Sweet 16 with an 84-76 win.
Eaton finished his career with a double-double, scoring 15 points and dishing out 10 assists as well as having five steals.
Harris dropped 17 points as well making five of six from three-point land.
Eaton's career ended as the career leader in steals in Oklahoma States history.
For Eaton, Harris, and senior center Anthony Brown, who was the hero of the third Bedlam game in the Big-12 Tournament, their respective rides have ended.
Eaton, Harris, and Brown have no reason to leave this program sulking. They helped revive Cowboy basketball, not only by sending them to the Big Dance but by integrating a "never die" attitude as well.
After being part of three coaching changes, three NIT first-round losses, and 23 different scholarship teammates, Eaton and Harris, despite everything, have something to be proud of.
Once known as the best recruiting class in basketball, Eaton and Harris were the only ones left standing above the rest.