A tournament badly in need of some competition got what might end up being the best game of the entire event, with two tough, physical teams trading blows only to have Big 12 officials step into the limelight and suck the life out of a classic contest.
As anticipated, Desmond Mason and Bob Kurland were tough to handle, with both squads running most of their sets through each of those players.
Catch All The Tournament Action
Catch All The Tournament Action
The 2000 Cowboys jumped on top early, as 1946 obviously struggled to adjust to the shot clock, 3pt line, and the athleticism of Mason. When the first media timeout arrived, Sutton's boys had the lead at 8-2. Iba quickly adjusted, but not defensively. The Aggies initially were completing 3-4 passes in their sets BEFORE the ball would touch Kurland's hands. Out of the timeout, the first or second pass in the set was going to the big man on the block or near the elbow, giving Kurland the opportunity to potentially have the ball in his hands twice in the possession. That, plus some cold shooting from OSU, resulted in a 10-2 run that gave A&M a 12-10 lead at the second media timeout. From that point forward, neither team would lead by more than 4 points until the end of the game, and there would be 18 lead changes. Despite the close score and physical play, officials generally let them play, with neither team getting into the bonus until just before the half.
Halftime score...OSU 34, A&M 31. Mason led all scorers with 14 points, including a thunderous alley oop from Gottlieb over Kurland that resulted in a 3pt play. Kurland led A&M at the break with 13 points, but the surprise of the first half was Joe Bradley, who Iba had obviously appointed the designated 3pt shooter for the Aggies. Bradley would come off the bench to hit 2 consecutive from deep, ending the half 3-5 from behind the arc. The troubling stat, however, for the Cowboys...they were only outrebounded 18-15, but 7 of those were offensive, and resulted in 10 second chance points for the Aggies. Both teams took great care of the ball, with only 5 turnovers combined at the break.
The 2nd half would be much of the same, although neither team scored from the floor in the first 3 minutes. Bradley, Kern, and Aubrey would rotate on Mason, and the defensive strategy was clear...provide resistance, no stupid fouls. Sutton had a slightly tougher task, as Kurland's height advantage that close to the basket, plus his physical play, was troublesome for OSU in the first half.
After trading the lead on almost every made basket in the first ten minutes of the second half, a traditional 3pt play by A.L. Bennett gave the Aggies a lead that, while slim, they would never relinquish. As the tension built, with a little under a minute to play and A&M hanging on to a 62-59 lead, officiating would take center stage.
On their next possession, OSU's Mason would tally the last of his 8 three point plays, tying the game at 62 with 52.8 seconds remaining. A&M had gone 2 minutes without a FG, so this looked like the Cowboys might pull off the upset. On the ensuing inbounds play, with OSU in a full court press, Bradley's pass appeared to deflect out of bounds off of Weldon Kern. The officials ruled OSU's ball, but after review overturned the call, despite what looked like several inconclusive replay angles.
With still plenty of time left, and no need to foul, the Cowboys settled in on defense. The Aggies predictably ran the shot clock under 10, then sent the ball into a double-teamed Kurland. His turnaround jump hook failed to draw iron, and Kurland clearly pushed Brian Montonati jockeying for the rebound, although no whistle came forth. The loose ball was tipped directly to Joe Bradley, who launched from 3 and touched nothing but net as the shot clock expired.
OSU still had time, especially considering A&M's FT struggles, but Kurland blocked Jonzen's short jumper, picked up the loose ball, and the Cowboys were forced to foul. Kurland would uncharacteristically make both, effectively ending the upset bid.
Desmond Mason led all scorers with a tournament high 40 points on 13-25 shooting, including 3-7 from behind the arc and 11-15 from the line. Iba had clearly chosen to not try and stop Mason's athleticism, and focused on limiting production from the rest of the Cowboys. The strategy proved effective with only Glen Alexander recording more than 5 points (10). The Aggies continued to make a living on the offensive boards, ending with 13 and 22 second chance points. A&M also had the advantage at the line, going 18-28 to OSU's 13-18. Doug Gottlieb was held to 2 points, 2 rebounds, but contributed 12 assists.
Kurland led the Aggies with 29 points, but the difference was Joe Bradley. His ability to hit shots from behind the arc, along with Kern and Bennett consistently dropping mid-range jumpers, made Sutton's team pay for focusing on Kurland in the paint. Bradley finished with 15 points on 5-10 from long range, and Kern and Bennett combined for 20 points on 8-14 from the field.
Kurland and Company now await the winner between two Final Four teams, 2004 and 1951.