COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- The University of New Mexico shot nearly 39 percent from the field. Oklahoma State shot about 33. There were a combined 35 turnovers and 38 fouls.
Maybe it was the early-afternoon starting time, but it didn't seem like a National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament game.
Oklahoma State, using the strong inside play of forward Byron Houston (21 points) and a solid defensive effort, defeated New Mexico, 67-54, in the first round of the East Regional at Cole Field House yesterday.
The No. 3-seeded Cowboys (23-7) will play sixth-seeded N.C. State (20-10) in the second round and second game of tomorrow's doubleheader at Cole. The first game begins at 12:15 p.m. The Wolfpack posted a 114-85 victory over 11th-seeded Southern Mississippi (21-8) yesterday. No. 14 New Mexico finished the season 20-10.
"I think the early starting time affected both teams," said Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton. "I've watched New Mexico on film a couple of times and they never played that badly.
"But I've had times where we played well and lost, so I'm not going to argue when we play badly and win," said Sutton.
The Cowboys' offensive strategy was simple: Get the ball inside to the 6-foot-7 Houston and 6-8 center John Pittman, and try to get Lobos 7-2 center Luc Longley into early foul trouble.
Houston did his part. He was only seven of 19 from the field but collected 17 rebounds as he constantly challenged Longley. Pittman struggled scoring only seven points and grabbing just five rebounds.
But it really didn't matter. Longley, a possible No. 1 National Basketball Association draft pick who averages 19.2 points and 3.2 blocks, was never a factor even though he had nine rebounds and blocked three shots.
The Cowboys neutralized Longley (16 points) and Lobos guard Rob Robbins (5), New Mexico's top two scorers. Robbins came into yesterday's game averaging 14.4 points.
"Teams that will do well will be those that are solid defensively, whether it be full court or half court," said Sutton. "Our defense today [mostly man-to-man] was pretty good especially when our offense struggled. Then in the second half we moved well, moved the ball and looked like a basketball team."
Still, Oklahoma State couldn't pull away from New Mexico until Houston committed his fourth foul with 11:47 left in the game, and the Cowboys ahead, 40-34.
But Cowboys guard Corey Williams hit a three-pointer 50 seconds later, then converted on a layup with 10:14 left in the game for a 45-34 Oklahoma State lead.
Pittman hit a half hook with 9:36 left followed by a jumper from the corner from forward Mattias Sahlstrom that put the Cowboys ahead, 49-35 with 8:22 remaining.
Oklahoma State maintained a comfortable lead the rest of the way including hitting 13 of 14 foul shots in the final 1:24.