Oklahoma State claimed the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title with a surprisingly easy 76-56 win over No. 6 NC State, riding the young legs of freshman Marcus Smart and sophomore LeBryan Nash to a huge upset.
Smart filled the stat sheet with 20 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks. Nash led the scoring with 23 points to go with 8 boards. The height problem persisted for Oklahoma State. Kamari Murphy and Philip Jurick combined for just seven front-line points, but Murphy pulled down a crucial 10 boards.
The Wolfpack saw positive signs from a freshman as well. Rodney Purvis poured in 15, though he found it difficult to hide his frustration as the clock drew down on a twenty-point loss. T.J. Warren came off the bench for 14, and was the only other NC State player in double figures.
The stellar offensive play of OSU’s tyros disguises the true bellweather of Ford’s team – an energetic, stingy, disciplined defense that held the Wolfpack to 34% shooting from the floor. And Ford’s recruiting has finally created a team where a jump-shooting prodigy like Phil Forte can come off the bench blazing for 17 points, instead of being a primary option, like the diminutive Keiton Page was last season.
Travis Ford’s team has been knocking on the door for a couple of years, now, punching above their weight in some huge Big 12 upsets. Oklahoma State’s win bodes well for the league, where Kansas, Baylor and Texas have been carrying the torch for a league that splintered badly during the height of realignment.
The Cowboys face an eight-game slate of very winnable games before clashing with No. 19 Gonzaga on New Year’s Eve. Then comes league play.
Orange and black is back. Look out, Big 12.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.