When Oklahoma State takes the floor for today's second-round, NCAA East Regional contest against Alabama at the Baltimore Arena, the Cowboys better look out for flying objects -- especially Crimson Tide sophomore center Antonio McDyess.
McDyess, 6 feet 9, spends most of his time hovering around and above the basket, where he outleaps opponents for rebounds, frustrates them with turnaround jumpers, put-backs and dunks and generally performs head and shoulders above the masses in the lane.
During the past two seasons, McDyess steadily has built a reputation in the Southeastern Conference as one of the league's best big men. Thursday night against Penn, the rest of the nation learned what the SEC has known all along about McDyess.
McDyess shook off a sluggish start to knock out the Quakers with a dominating show inside. He scored a career-high 39 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and converted 16 of 24 shots to carry Alabama to a 91-85 overtime victory.
"I heard a news commentator [at the Arena] say he had never heard of me. After last night's game, maybe he knows about me," McDyess said yesterday. "That just makes me play harder, so people can see what kind of a player I am."
This is no one-night wonder. Since he left his hometown of Quitman, Miss., to come to Alabama, McDyess has assumed the role as one of the SEC's premier athletes who enjoys life on the boards.
Consider that he broke his cheekbone during preseason practice as a freshman, yet still recorded a double-double (11 points, 14 rebounds) in his first collegiate game, against Tennessee-Chattanooga. He wore a protective mask for his first 18 games and missed four games with a sprained ankle, yet averaged 11.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in 26 games to help Alabama to a 20-10 record.
The Crimson Tide's season ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Purdue.
Tendinitis in his knees and persistent foul trouble slowed McDyess early this season. Lately, though, his opponents have been feeling the pain. McDyess, who hit the weight room for the first time last year and now has a muscular, 220-pound frame, is finishing this season with a rush.
Thursday night's performance marked the 10th time McDyess has registered a double-double in his past 15 games, and it also marked the biggest offensive night by an Alabama player in the history of the NCAA tournament.
"We've seen it before. We've practiced with him for two years now. It didn't surprise me a bit," Alabama guard Artie Griffin said.
"He jumps so well, his shot is so pure and he's so quick for being that big. If you give him an inch, he'll dunk it on you. Everybody on the team has gotten a taste of that. He's like Shawn Kemp with a jump shot."
He is also a key to how far Alabama will go in the NCAAs, although McDyess shrugs and offers a self-deprecating laugh at the notion.
"My teammates have been telling me what a good game I had [against Penn], but I really haven't thought about it too much. They're telling me it was one of the greatest games. I don't like to look at it like that. I just go out and do what I can."
McDyess has done plenty. He leads the Crimson Tide in scoring (13.6) and rebounding (10.0), and has been a terror of late. In his past four games -- including a 20-rebound effort against Arkansas in an SEC semifinal loss -- he has averaged 20.5 points and 16.0 rebounds. He already has 24 double-doubles in his career.
"He does every single thing you tell him to do and the way you tell him to do it. That's refreshing," Alabama coach David Hobbs said. "He's shy, but he's very much his own individual.
"He is a small-town guy, and he's got a big-time game."