The last two seasons, Oklahoma State picked up a couple of strikes in the National Invitation Tournament.
After a nice five-game winning streak toward the end of the year, the Cowboys were hoping to figure out a way to avoid the NIT altogether this year. That didn't happen, but the team talked about being upbeat and focused this year for their first-round game against Southern Illinois.
But that didn't appear to be the case, as the Pokes picked up their third straight strike in the NIT. And they were caught looking, as the Salukis were able to defeat OSU 69-53 at SIU Arena in Carbondale, Ill., on Monday night.
While the final score was ugly for the Cowboys (17-16), the gap wasn't always so wide over the course of the game, although OSU trailed much of the time. In the early going, the game was nip/tuck, with the difference likely being the Pokes' over-reliance on shooting three point shots. In the first 10 minutes of the game, OSU was 0-for-6 from long range. At that point, the Salukis (18-14) held a slim 12-10 lead. The margin remained fairly close the rest of the first half, even with odd stats like the disparity in turnovers with 4:30 to go before the half. At that point, SIU had committed 12 turnovers and OSU only three, but the Salukis held a 20-16 advantage.
After falling behind 26-19 at the half, the Cowboys attempted to make a comeback and overcome the deficit. James Anderson finally broke through the three-point wall with one coming around the 17-minute mark of the second session. In the first half, OSU was 0-for-11 from three. That Anderson three tied the game at 29-29 and it appeared as if OSU was reversing.
But that wasn't the case. SIU was able to take a seven-point lead 15:08 left and it was at that point things started to swing their way, although the score margin oscillated between small and widening until the 8:05 mark, when SIU's Matt Shaw sank a three-pointer and the Salukis took a 49-40 lead. After that, things just got worse for OSU. They started to fall further behind, even facing a 20-point deficit late in the game before cutting it back a tad.
No Cowboy really had a solid game, though Terrel Harris ended up scoring 20 points and James Anderson had 13. The rest of the team only mustered 20 points combined. For SIU, Shaw led all scorers with 21 points, while Randal Falker had 15 and Joshua Bone had 11. While SIU faced problems from OSU at times, they were able to overcome the loss of their starting point guard Bryan Mullins, who averaged five assists a game running the slow-paced Saluki offense.
With the win, the Salukis now advance to the second round, most likely meaning a trip to Tempe, Ariz., against the top-seed Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday. ASU is currently playing Alabama State.
As for the Cowboys, the loss means another season ending in the first round of the NIT. This streak comes on the heels of the 2004 Final Four appearance and 2005 Sweet 16 run.