There isn’t a whole lot of sports to write about these days. Because of that, we’ll be writing about a lot of different things — everything from new alcohol to try during this period of social distancing to any Oklahoma State related content we can pump out. Along those lines, I wanted to write this piece as a little bit of a tribute to my senior class of 2020.
Our college careers were cut short earlier this week as OSU announced the moving of all classes to online for the rest of the semester. It’s an abrupt end that leaves us without goodbyes for our friends, classmates and peers. It’s an odd time to be alive for all of us.
Because I’ve loved my time at Oklahoma State so dearly, here are some recaps from my favorite games of college — ones to remember the class of 2020 by.
Because I’m a football and basketball guy, that’s what’s going to be included in here. I want to include only games that I attended or specifically remember watching. It kills me to leave so much meat on the bone because softball and golf especially have been so good over the last four years, but it’s hard to write about games I didn’t attend.
Freshman Year — 2016-17
The 2016-17 school year was arguably the best for OSU athletics in the last four years. It started with a 61-7 win against a Southeastern Louisiana squad that featured one of my high school classmates. That was followed by a stunning “loss” to Central Michigan the following week.
That game doesn’t bring the best of memories, but it was the last OSU football game Marcus Smart attended. I met him at that game which was pretty crazy given that I’ve been a lifelong Celtics fan. The following game against Pitt was important as a bounce back game, and is first on my list of favorites.
This was the game that I was first able to see in person just how good James Washington is. The President finished with 296 yards and two scores on nine catches. Mason Rudolph had 540 yards through the air and Rennie Childs carried the ball 10 times for 101 yards and four touchdowns.
Rennie Childs— Matt Harris (@Matt_Harris13) March 16, 2020
(Yes, this totally dates my knowledge of OSU athletics)
That’s not to mention a massive downpour that caused a nearly two-hour delay. After yet another 11 am start (it feels like every game that season started at 11 am), I bailed to find food after about an hour of the rain delay because most food vendors in the stadium closed: the delay came just after the start of the fourth quarter. It wound up being one of two games I left early in college.
The next game on the docket was one of two OSU road games I attended. It wound up being a loss, but my first road game experience was everything I hoped it would be. There was no experience like waving the wheat and cheering loudly in a sea of Baylor green — right down to staying for the alma mater at nearly midnight an hour and a half away from home after a frustrating loss, yet still feeling proud.
Turnovers doomed OSU in this game, but it served as Justice Hill’s coming out party. The freshman finished with 122 yards on 20 carries and never looked back, taking the reigns on the starting running back spot for the rest of the season. This game did give me one of my favorite OSU uniform combos ever: W/W/W with the chrome Pete helmets.
After the Baylor loss, OSU got back on track with a home win against a then-ranked Texas team that would finish 5-7 with a loss to Kansas (never forget). But then the season was nearly derailed again in my next favorite game.
Iowa State held a commanding 31-14 lead halfway through the third quarter. A comeback felt nearly hopeless before the Pokes reeled off 24 straight points in a quarter-and-a-half to take a 38-31 win. The running game struggled but Rudolph and Washington worked their magic again, hooking up eight times for 152 yards and two scores.
The rest of our freshman football season consisted of our first homecoming — which doubled as Mike Gundy’s 100th career win — against No. 10 West Virginia. The home slate wrapped up with an epic 45-44 win against Patrick Mahomes and Texas Tech.
For basketball season, Brad Underwood decided take his “Underwood 2016” slogan a little too literally. The slogan was inspired by the presidential election year, and the coach stayed just one season in Stillwater. That season would prove to be the only NCAA Tournament trip for the class of 2020. Among those were some good games.
The team went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational, arguably the best holiday tournament in college hoops. Wins against UCONN and Georgetown bookended a loss to eventual national champion North Carolina.
I once again attended the road game at Baylor over Christmas break, a 61-57 loss to the nation’s No. 2 team. While a good memory, two home games stand out in particular.
My favorite basketball game from freshman year was another loss to Baylor, this time at home. Baylor was ranked No. 6 at the time, but OSU had won four straight conference games after an 0-6 start.
The Pokes came from down 11 with two minutes left to pull within one late in the game. Several hustle plays had GIA absolutely screaming. It felt like the building was going to fall apart at the seams. My own adrenaline was so high I walked out of the building with jelly knees.
Ultimately, Phil Forte missed a potential game-tying three at the buzzer, and the look on his and Jeff Carroll’s faces as they walked off summed up the ending: they both looked absolutely winded.
One other game rivals this one, and it came the following week. This time OSU would come out on top. The Pokes clinched a winning record in the season Bedlam series with a 96-92 win in front of a raucous GIA. Phil Forte broke the school record for three-pointers made in a career as well, and it was special to see that piece of history be made.
The Pokes ended the game on a 14-4 run to win. Watching these highlights reminds me of how much I miss watching Jawun Evans and Phil Forte play in the orange and black.
The basketball team would go on to make the NCAA tournament during a somewhat up-and-down season. A first round 92-91 loss to Michigan has left the program still searching for its first NCAA Tournament win since 2009.
Sophomore Year — 2017-18
2017 started with high expectations. The football team returned most of a dynamic offense and had a few gaps to fill in the secondary, but was returned most everyone else. Sports Illustrated put Mason Rudolph on the cover of it’s regional magazine and proclaimed that OSU would make the playoffs. It was a very similar feeling to the outlook of this coming season.
It didn’t quite turn out how it was expected by some. While nearly every game freshman year was memorable in some form or another, sophomore year was the opposite. OSU played six games at Boone Pickens Stadium as opposed to seven, and the last home game of the year came against Kansas the weekend after Thanksgiving, the only home football game I didn’t attend in college.
One of my favorite games from the year turned out to be the first one, a blowout win against Tulsa. Mason Rudolph began his victory lap by completing 20/24 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns. James Washington caught two of those touchdowns and 145 yards on six total catches. Justice Hill was his own personal hurricane against the Golden ‘Canes, with 132 yards on 15 carries.
Oklahoma State climbed as high as No. 6 in the nation after three straight blowout wins to open the season. While the game wasn’t necessarily one of my favorites, I have to include the highlights of the Cowboy offense hanging 49 points on Pitt in a half. Four Cowboy receivers topped 100 yards in this game, as OSU raced out to a 35-0 lead just two minutes into the second quarter.
Mason Rudolph might have thrown for more yards at Heinz Field that day than he has in his career as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
My other favorite game from the 2017 season was probably the toughest loss in the last four years, but a great game nonetheless. OSU came out ready to play in a Bedlam with massive playoff implications. OU came in ranked fifth with one loss, while OSU was ranked eleventh with one loss as well. A win against No. 5 would’ve catapulted OSU into the playoff picture.
It felt like OSU was chasing four-to-11 points most of the game, but tied it at 38 heading to half. An 18-yard pass from Rudolph to Tyron Johnson with 9:51 left cut the OU lead to 55-52, and Chad Whitener would pick-off Baker Mayfield on the next drive. OSU failed to convert on a fourth-and-eight as Rudolph barely missed Johnson heading for the end zone. If he had hit him, OSU very well could’ve ended up in the playoff.
The worst part about this game is there were so many what-ifs. There were at least five plays that, had they gone a little different, OSU probably wins. Nonetheless, this was a duel for the ages, and one of the most memorable of college. Shout-out to Tyron Johnson.
Football would go on to lose to Kansas State after making a furious comeback that reminded me a lot of the Iowa State game from freshman year. The third loss means the Cowboys would draw Virginia Tech in the Camping World bowl; turning it into back-to-back bowl wins and back-to-back 10-win seasons.
While football disappointed (a little bit, I mean they still won 10 games) basketball did the opposite. After losing three starters and their head coach, Cowboy hoops shocked even it’s own fanbase.
The expectations weren’t high, but OSU won six games against ranked teams, with four of those coming against top 10 teams. They swept Kansas! The fact this team didn’t make the tournament still upsets me.
Anyway, I had a few goals for OSU athletics in college. I wanted College Gameday to come, I wanted a court storm and a field storm, and I wanted OSU to beat OU in football. The last of those is the only one that didn’t happen.
Sophomore year hoops gave us not one, not two, but three court storms. That’s a ton for one season. First up is No. 4 OU.
The Sooners looked to be among college hoops’ best teams. That wound up not being true, but we didn’t know that at the time. Trae Young was an electric talent to see in person, and it’s easy to see why he was named an NBA All-Star in his second season. However, Trae alone wasn’t enough to get the Sooners a win... not when you’re playing a team with *checks notes, squints, shrugs* Mitchell Solomon on it.
Young had 48 points, but no other Sooner scored in double digits. Part of the reason Young wound up with 48 is because he took 39 shots; the Sooner with the next most was Christian James with 11. For OSU, grad transfer Kendall Smith had 20 huge points off the bench while Clip led the team in scoring with 23.
Next up was Texas Tech, a game incredible for multiple reasons. Not only did the Cowboys upset the No. 6 Red Raiders for their second court-storm inducing win of the season, but Larry Reece announced midway through the first half that President Burns Hargis, who was sitting court side, had cancelled classes for the next day due to inclement weather. Now that was an awesome moment to be at the game as a student.
Court storm number three was perhaps the best of them all. Beating OU is always fun, but the Sooners turned out to be a team not worthy of a court storm. Beating Kansas is the rarest of rare, and this game was the second time in the same season that the Cowboys topped the Jayhawks.
Perhaps the best part was the senior sendoff. Up by nearly 20 with a minute left, coach Boynton pulled each senior off the court one-by-one to standing ovations as Bill Self stood there and watched it happen. The Cowboy lead felt pretty safe even with four minutes left as Kansas couldn’t get anything going.
Those final minutes felt like they took forever, and it felt great watching it all unfold. While the Baylor loss freshman year was perhaps the most hype I have ever seen GIA, the Kansas win sophomore year was the most special.
That concludes the first part of this two-part series. The next will cover recaps and my favorite moments from my junior and senior years of college. The majority of my favorite memories comes from freshman year; partly why this part is so long. I’ll try my best to make the next installment shorter.