DAYTON -- After all the frenetic running and three-point chucking that kept Oklahoma State in front of or within striking distance of No. 9 seed Tennessee for the first 39 minutes Friday, the Dayton opener boiled down to two set Cowboys plays, and that's just not Oklahoma State's game.
Listening to Byron Eaton describe the final moments, however, you wouldn't believe it. In the waning moments of a game in which both teams combined for 54 three-point attempts, Eaton first popped a crowd-wowing two-pointer on a set play to go up 74-72 as the clock read 53 seconds.Of course, that equates to an eon in March, and a Tyler Smith layup and free throw at the other end put Eaton back in a similar position, down by one.
Eaton tells the rest: "I told our guys not to worry; we were going to win this game. Coach drew up a great play to open the court a little bit wider and I was able to get to the middle." Eaton broke a nasty crossover and rolled off a pick. "Once I got by [the defender], I was looking for contact because I knew it was coming." He hit the layup and coolly sank his free throw, and minutes later he was embracing perhaps the most exciting play of the tournament so far. "This is the reason you're here," he said. "It's the reason you stick around; the reason you play ball."
1. Marshall Moses just might be good enough in the post. Oklahoma State critics are quick to point to Moses, who doesn't scare anyone at just 6-6. But his Mohawk and tatted out arms (plus his attitude, which led to a tech for hanging on the rim) say more about his game than his size. On Friday, he handled himself just fine against the Vols' 6- 9 Wayne Chism and 6-10 Brian Williams.Here's the irony: at Thursday's practice, Chism did his best not to scoff when asked Moses's size. "What was his size again?" he cracked with a smile. "You can't really think about size," Moses said after the game. "Chism is a great center, but it's not just inches; you have to see a guy in the bigger picture of his team." Thus, it was Marshall who racked up 16 points on 8 of 10 shooting and collected 11 boards while Chism and Williams combined for 13 and nine.
Typical of his day, in the first half it was Moses leaping to save a bleacher-bound ball to initiate a break, which Eaton capped with a floater. And in the second half there was Moses again on an alley-oop, stretching to salvage a poorly placed lob.
2. The second-most-talked about toe in the land (behind Ty Lawson's big toe, of course) is doing just fine. Eaton entered the game with a right toe injury that he described on Thursday as leaving him at just 75 percent. He had to sit out Wednesday's practice, but promised his teammates he was good to go after that. "I kind of willed myself into health," he says. "I determined that I had to play in this game. I've been fighting out there too long to make it this far and sit out." Afterward, he cringed to describe his status, mumbling something between "playable" and "painful." Asked which it was, he grimaced, "both. If I had to, I could play another 40 minutes right now. But I'm glad I don't have to." For the record, that would be the same foot that Eaton pushed off of to release his game-winning basket.
3. When Pitt takes on Oklahoma State next, it had better be quick on the perimeters. The Cowboys entered the game fifth in the nation in three-pointers made (9.3) and sank seven more today, including on their first two possessions. Stretches like that took the Vols out of their game (they hit just 31.4 percent on the year) and, more importantly, prevented Tennessee from beefing up and feeding the ball inside.
Eaton's the easy pick, but Keiton Page deserves as much credit for the beating he withstood. At 5-10 -- which looks much more like 5-8 -- he might not meet John Wayne's definition of a Cowboy. And his stat line (six points and two assists) doesn't exactly jump off the page. But he made a run at Moses for Grittiest Guy on the Floor, and that will mean something on Sunday when he takes on one of the beefiest, most physical backcourts in the land. Eaton should be prominent on the UT-OSU highlight reel. He dashed up the left sideline right before the half and managed to shed a defender from his hip as he corralled a sloppy Moses pass, finding Eaton in the paint for a finger roll that brought OSU to a 34-34 tie. Two and a half minutes later, it was Page getting leveled along the same sideline by Tennessee's 267-pound Brian Williams. "The guys are already talking about Pittsburgh," he said afterward. "If that happens, I know it'll be worse." Indeed.
Several of Pittsburgh's players suggested on Thursday that they wouldn't watch the earlier game -- they've done that before and it's gotten in their heads. But there they were, early in the second half, lounging behind the Oklahoma State basket. Technically, center DeJuan Blair kept his promise. He had an iPod in tote and didn't appear to be paying attention to much of anything beyond his ear buds. And it wasn't pretty. Somehow the guy manages to make music-listening a thrashing, physical affair.Also spotted courtside: 11 orange ties between the two teams (and a pair of suspenders, on Tennessee's Bruce Pearl).
Coming next is Pittsburgh, a team that's made a name for itself with recent early exits. As Moses entered the locker room after the Tennessee takedown he joked, "I'm already thinking about them. I've played Blair before and I know what to expect. That guy is going to get just nasty on me." Blair vs. Moses is typical of the type of mismatches that Pittsburgh-Oklahoma State would present. It'll be on OSU to force its opponent out of its game. "No question we've got our hands full," coach Travis Ford said afterward. "We're going to have to figure something out in the next two days."