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February 25, 2014

Final Thoughts: Two in a row

Oklahoma State took care of business Monday night as the Cowboys defeated the TCU Horned Frogs for the second time this season by a score of 76-54, sweeping the Horned Frogs this season. With that win OSU has now won consecutive games for the first time since the beginning of January. The OSU rally could not have come at better time because the Cowboys will finally get their rematch against Kansas on a national stage Saturday night. With two wins under their belt OSU has built their confidence back up and it has shown in their play. They may still be on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament for now, but they are heading into the right direction to be a lock in for the Big Dance.

• The "Big 3" did not have a night that you would expect from them (more on them later), but it was the supporting cast who came up big for the Cowboys in Fort Worth. Phil Forte has fit in well to the starting lineup and it has shown in the box score. He led all players with 23 points on 8-13 shooting and was 50% from 3-point range, shooting 5-10. Forte's ability to attack the hoop has continued to impress me and has really given him another threat on offense. He has become dangerous in transition on offense and has become really consistent scoring inside the paint. Forte was also able to contribute other ways than scoring. He was able to grab 3 rebounds and also added 4 assists to his state line. So far this is the second time Forte has been in the starting lineup in place of Brian Williams and it has proven to be the right decision by Coach Ford. He will have a bigger challenge on Saturday in Kansas though

• Forte was not the only supporting role player to make an impact Monday. Leyton Hammonds had the best game of his OSU career so far and has established himself as OSU's new 6th man. Hammonds had a career high 13 points on 5-7 shooting and also grabbed 3 rebounds for the night. This season Hammonds had not looked like the player a lot of people had anticipated, but he may be gaining confidence at the perfect time for the Cowboys. I'm not really sure when Hammonds become unconfident in himself because he really never got a true that chance to showcase his skills against stiffer competition, but his buzzer beater against Baylor last week has really lit a fire under him. Like Forte the question now will be how Hammonds will perform against a top tier team like Kansas. In the 1st matchup he played one possession which was a turnover by him on the inbounds and sat out the remainder of the game. Saturday he will get a chance to redeem himself.

• A few worthy notable stats for the Cowboys. In the last few games the Cowboys have really been consistent at the free throw line. Free throws have been a huge struggle for Oklahoma State, but as of late they have really improved their shooting from the charity stripe. Against Texas Tech last Saturday the Cowboys were 82.6% from the free throw line and on Monday were 75%. I think one reason for the improvement is because Forte driving to the basket is resulting in him making contact and drawing fouls. With Forte being one of the best free throw shooters in the country it is almost always a guaranteed points for the Cowboys. The rest of the Cowboy squad has also done a good job of improving from the free throw line. Another significant stat for the Cowboys is their assists total. For the 2nd consecutive game the Cowboys had 20 assists, this time on 28 field goals made. There were a few instances where the Cowboys settled for poor looks, but I think they're starting to understand how to be more efficient on the offensive side of the ball. Oklahoma State made have dug themselves into a pretty deep hole with that seven game losing streak, but if these last games are any indication of how the rest of the season will play out, the Cowboys may have found their mojo at the right time. The only downside right now is that any simple slipup could cost them a NCAA Tournament Bid, but if they can keep their pace up, we could see an Oklahoma State team that a lot of us had expected to see this season.

• The OSU "Big 3" did not have the greatest of outings despite picking up an impress win on Monday. Le'Bryan Nash ended up in foul trouble early and sat most of the game and Markel Brown and Marcus Smart were a combined 9-30 from the field on the night. Smart, who has been struggling from 3-point range in conference play started off on a poor shooting night, but midway through the second half Smart hit five three pointers in a row and finished with 17 points. It was good to see Smart find his touch from beyond the arc, but it came at a cost of shooting 6-17 from the field. A lot of people are afraid this will result into him settling for 3s again, but I think he understands his duties now for this team. Despite shooting poorly Smart still had a ridiculous stat line with 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals. Smart will do everything else right for the Cowboys, but if he's feeling it that is a huge bonus for the Cowboys. Maybe like Hammonds Smart just needed to gain confidence in shooting again, maybe tonight was just a fluke game. Kansas will prove to be a much bigger challenge so time will tell soon enough.

• For the 2nd straight game Brian Williams saw his minutes shrink and his role as starter revoked to a bench player role. Not only does it look like Williams will no longer be a starter, but he will not even be Travis Ford's 1st choice coming off the bench from way on out. Again this seems to be a correct choice so far because Hammonds has really produced off the bench as of late. That being said in the 12 minutes he played Williams was able to be productive for the Cowboys. He went 2-3 from the field and was able to grab 2 rebounds as well. Williams may not have the ideal role that he had in the beginning of the season, but even with a smaller role that does not seem to affect his attitude or his performance from what I've seen. Williams could see his playtime increase if he is able to get back into his old ways similar to Hammonds. With OSU's depth still being a big issue for him, it will only take a player or two to get into foul trouble for him to be right back into the mix of things.

Oklahoma State has now won two games in a row and is now 6-9 in conference play and 18-10 overall this season. The Cowboys return home to face Kansas Saturday night for the 2nd time this season. The struggle in the Big XII continues for TCU as they have now lost their 15 consecutive games and are 0-15 in conference play and 9-18 overall. The Horned Frogs will travel to Morgantown Saturday in a rematch against West Virginia.

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