Tonight’s matchup against Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks is the final Big 12 game of the season for both teams and the last game for Phil Forte and Leyton Hammonds in GIA (maybe Jawun too?). KU comes into town as the No. 1 ranked team in the country and riding a seven-game winning streak. OSU just dropped a heart-breaker in Ames on Tuesday, falling 86-83 at Iowa State, and look to end the regular season with a big-time win over the Jayhawks, a week before selection Sunday. The Jayhawks have won 13 straight regular season Big 12 basketball titles, but they have also lost three consecutive games in Stillwater, America. Expect a great battle and atmosphere tonight in front of a sold-out Gallagher-Iba Arena. ESPN’s BPI has it ranked as the best matchup in the country.
Let’s look at the quick hits for tonight’s matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks.
Jayhawks (27-3, 15-2 Big 12) vs. Cowboys (20-10, 9-8 Big 12)
Time: 5:00 p.m. CST
Location: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, OK
Radio: Cowboy Radio Network
Stream: WatchESPN.com (requires provider login)
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
Kansas enters tonight’s game on a seven-game winning streak and with an overall record of 27-3 and 15-2 in Big 12 play. After defeating TCU 87-68 back on February 22nd, the Jayhawks locked up their 13th consecutive Big 12 conference regular season championship. Absolutely insane. The last time that KU did not finish atop of the Big 12 conference, there was no such thing as the iPhone...THE IPHONE. Death, taxes and KU winning the Big 12 (definitely not in football though). They have been very good for a very long time and this year is no different. Led by senior guard and POY candidate Frank Mason III, Kansas is in great position to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. KU leads the Big 12 in both 3-point field goal percentage and overall field goal percentage. This offensive attack is spearheaded by Mason, junior guard Devonté Graham and freshman phenom Josh Jackson. Mason leads the Big 12 in scoring, averaging over 20 points a game and is shooting at a 50 percent clip from behind the arc. Jackson and Graham aren't far behind, averaging 16.3 and 13.2 ppg, respectively. The Jayhawks have relied heavily on this backcourt this season, as all three players average over 30 minutes per night on the court, Mason and Graham especially, who are first and third in minutes played at 36 and 35 minutes a game. A key to their solid offensive production, the Jayhawks are also atop the Big 12 in defensive rebounds per game and rebounding overall. They are led by senior forward Landen Lucas, who grabs just over eight boards per game.
In the previous matchup between KU and OSU, the Jayhawks edged past the 10-6 (0-4) Pokes 87-80 in Allen Field House. OSU jumped out to a 19-8 lead early on, but KU proved to be too much as they clawed their way back to take the lead for good after a Devonte Graham 3-pointer with nine minutes left in the game. Kansas shot 45 free throws in the contest, compared to OSU’s 14 attempts (something that did not sit well with the Cowboy faithful). Mason, Graham, and Jackson all chipped in over 20 points and KU out rebounded OSU 45-36. For the pokes, Carroll led the way with 23 points and Solomon added a season-high 16 points. Evans and Forte both struggled and finished a combined 9-of-32 from the field.
Oklahoma State comes into Saturday following a tough loss this past Tuesday on the road at Iowa State 86-83. Both teams shot lights out from behind the arc, Iowa State hit 15-of-31 from deep and the Pokes made 13-of-26, but in the end, “Hilton Magic” got the best of the Cowboys. Evans delivered a big-time game in Ames, scoring 29 points on 8-of-15 from the field and hitting some huge shots down the stretch. It was a great game from two equally similar basketball teams, and we will most likely see round three in Kansas City at the Big 12 tournament next week.
Tonight, OSU faces the No. 1-ranked team in the country for their final home game of the season. As showcased throughout the season and on Tuesday in Ames, OSU has one of the top offenses in the country. Tonight, Underwood will continue to rely heavily on the trio of Jawun Evans, Jeffrey Carroll and Phil Forte and look for Hammonds, Dillard, and Averette to chip in as well. In the first matchup at KU, OSU was still figuring out their defensive identity, and wanted to create as much chaos as possible. Now, while the Cowboys still struggle defensively, they aren’t giving up the alarming amount of open looks and layups to opponents like they were at the start of Big 12 play. It will be interesting to watch how the defensive adjustment affects this matchup. OSU is looking for it’s fourth straight win against KU in Stillwater and tonight is senior night at Gallagher-Iba, let’s take a look at the seniors we’ll be saying farewell to.
Hindered by by foul trouble earlier in the year, Hammonds has been playing some of the best basketball of his career at the end of his senior season with the Cowboys. He’s become a real road-warrior and remains an integral part of this OSU team with his ability to stretch opposing defenses on offense and guard bigger opponents on the defensive end. In his last three road games, Hammonds is averaging 19.3 ppg and shooting 55 percent from the field. When Leyton Hammonds is feeling it from outside, he takes this OSU offense to new heights. If OSU can make a run in the NCAA tournament, Hammonds could be an X-factor.
Phil Forte will leave OSU as the school’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals. At a program with rich basketball history, he is arguably the greatest shooter to ever suit up for Oklahoma State. Once known just as Marcus Smart’s high school teammate, Phil Forte has etched his name into OSU history and is a fan favorite among Cowboy fans. Forte averaged double digit scoring numbers in every season at OSU. This season, he is shooting 42.5 percent from behind the arc and 95.2 percent from the free-throw line (!). Forte is unquestionably one of the biggest leaders on this team and is a proven testimony to hard work. Forte truly has unlimited range and every other Big 12 fan base will be happy to see him leave.
Both of these guys deserve a standing ovation come Saturday night for their one final game in GIA. Make some noise!
Three Big Things
1) Limiting KU’s second chances. In the first matchup, OSU gave up 16 offensive rebounds to the Jayhawks. KU already has the highest field-goal percentage in the conference, if you give them multiple opportunities on the same possession, they will really hurt you. OSU badly needs to secure rebounds on the first shot.
2) The Free-Throw Line. As I mentioned earlier, KU attempted 31 more free throws than OSU did in the first matchup and OSU was called for 16 more fouls. Now while many Big 12 fanbases will tell you that’s just life in Allen Field House, OSU did play a very aggressive style of defense and contributed to that discrepancy. However, if OSU can get to the line a similar number of times as KU tonight, that will give an edge to the Pokes. OSU ranks 4th in the country at FT percentage, 78.4 percent, and KU is 301st in the country at 65.7 percent.
3) Evans vs. Mason. The winner of this individual matchup could be huge in ultimately determining the winner of the game. Back in January, Mason scored 22 points and limited Evans to 15 points on 6-of-22 shooting. Both coaches rely heavily on the play of their star point guards for the success of their teams, so look for this to be a crucial matchup yet again.
Four straight in GIA. OSU 81 - KU 76