Despite bracketologists across the country picking No. 9 seed Oklahoma State to make a deep NCAA tournament run this March, No. 8 seed Gonzaga eliminated the Cowboys on Friday in San Diego, jumping out to an early 9-0 and never trailing on the way to a 85-77 second-round victory.
SportsCenter on Twitter confirmed the result:
Gonzaga holds off Oklahoma State! Kevin Pangos leads the way with 26 Pts. Przemek Karnowski: 15 Pts, 10 Reb pic.twitter.com/281cneyS7L— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 21, 2014
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The Associated Press' John Coon perfectly summed up a game that lasted nearly three hours and featured 61 combined fouls:
You heard of the neverending story? Gonzaga and Oklahoma State are playing the never-ending game. #MarchMadness— John Coon (@johncoonsports) March 21, 2014
Gary Bell Jr. who scored 10 of the Bulldogs' first 13 points, finished with 17 on 6-of-8 shooting, and Kevin Pangos scored 26 points to lead the West Coast Conference champions.
Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart scored 23 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out seven assists and had six steals, but scored nearly half his points from the foul line and shot just 5-of-14 from the floor. The star sophomore also turned the ball over six times.
|No. 9 Oklahoma State||34||43||77|
|No. 8 Gonzaga||43||42||85|
Prior to Friday's showdown, Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos talked about the different atmosphere surrounding his team and the lessons learned a year after bowing out in the third round of the NCAA tournament, per The Associated Press (via CBSSports.com):
Last year we were being talked about like Wichita State is this year. People were criticizing us and praising us, and there was a lot of talk. This year we're floating under the radar, which is fine by us - No. 8 seed, nothing guaranteed, and we're just trying to take care of business.
We learned last year that at this time anything is possible, but it is a little bit of a different feeling.
Pangos and the Bulldogs began the game on fire, hitting their first seven shots and putting the Cowboys under pressure early, per SI.com's Stewart Mandel:
Gonzaga has made its first 7 shots, most right at the rim, to take 17-9 lead on Oklahoma State. Marcus Smart 3 right before the TO.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) March 21, 2014
Gonzaga would race out to a 9-0 lead, but as ESPN's Myron Medcalf pointed out, it was a familiar situation for Oklahoma State:
Strong start for Gonzaga. But many Oklahoma State wins have started like this.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 21, 2014
Sure enough, Smart and the Cowboys would ignite a 10-0 run of their own to pull within one point. Smart scored six of Oklahoma State's 10 points over that stretch, cashing in on a four-point play to wake up his team.
Travis Ford's bunch weren't able to secure the lead, but they had finally matched Gonzaga's energy, per The Orange County Register's Devin Ugland:
Oklahoma State started out a bit sluggish, but has since picked up the intensity. Gonzaga leads 25-22 with 7:34 to play in the first half.— Devin Ugland (@Devin_Ugland) March 21, 2014
But just like the way they started the game, the Bulldogs finished the half strong to give themselves a nine-point cushion at the break, per Mandel:
HALFTIME: Gonzaga 43, Oklahoma State 34. 'Zags hit two big 3s, went on 9-1 run to end the half.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) March 21, 2014
KCOU Sports' Steve Goldberg praised Gonzaga's balance at the break:
A lot of people picked Oklahoma State for Marcus Smart but I love the balance of this Gonzaga team. Bulldogs lead 43-34 at the half! #GoZags— Steve Goldberg (@SG_Mizzou15) March 21, 2014
After Gonzaga extended its lead to 12 points early in the second half, Oklahoma State became the aggressor, going on a 7-0 run to get right back in the game. But as they had done all game long, the Bulldogs weathered the storm and regained control before the Cowboys could get over the hump.
The game of runs continued as another 7-0 Cowboys run narrowed the Bulldogs' lead to 53-50. But after a timeout, Gonzaga responded with five straight points to extend the lead.
Midway through the second half, the referees became a factor as one picky foul after another was called, per sports anchor Rick Aaron:
The refs in Oklahoma State-Gonzaga must be geting paid by the foul. #OSUvsGonz— Rick Aaron (@RickAaron) March 21, 2014
WVU News' William Hirsch provided the eye-popping numbers:
with 7:04 left in the game in Oklahoma State versus Gonzaga, there have been 39 fouls called— William Hirsch (@whirsch_wvunews) March 21, 2014
Unfortunately for Oklahoma Sate, it was unable to take advantage, missing key free throws with the game still in the balance. The fouls were catching up to both teams, and Le'Bryan Nash would be whistled for his fifth foul, forcing the Cowboys to play without one of their better players for the final five-plus minutes.
Holding onto a comfortable lead when Nash went out, Gonzaga would fend off Oklahoma State's final push en route to one of the second-round's most impressive victories.
Next up, Mark Few's squad will take on No. 1 seed Arizona on Sunday. With a berth in the Sweet 16 at stake, the Bulldogs will need another stellar defensive performance to pull off the upset. Gonzaga stifled Oklahoma State's shooters on Friday and will need to build off that success to get past the stingy Wildcats in San Diego.
Gonzaga will also have to shore up its free-throw shooting as it missed 15 free throws on Friday. A similar performance from the charity stripe won't get it done against Arizona.
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