Oklahoma State spent the first 25 minutes of yesterday's East Regional second-round contest playing Alabama to a draw.
But the game suddenly turned along with the left knee of Alabama center Antonio McDyess. Five minutes into the second half, McDyess landed awkwardly, felt a shooting pain above the knee, and limped to the Crimson Tide bench.
McDyess returned several minutes later, but not before the Cowboys spotted their opening, seized control behind center Bryant Reeves and guard Randy Rutherford, and pulled away to a 66-52 victory at the Baltimore Arena.
The victory sends Oklahoma State (25-9) into Friday's East Regional semifinal against Wake Forest at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. It marks the Cowboys' first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1992, when Reeves was a freshman, before the nation knew much about Big Country.
Since then, Reeves has won two Big Eight Player of the Year awards, and the 7-foot, 292-pound senior gave Alabama (23-10) a taste of his low-post power yesterday. In 40 workmanlike minutes, Reeves led all scorers with 26 points, and he added seven rebounds and three assists.
He scored 12 points over the game's final 12:44, including the layup that gave the Cowboys the lead for good at 37-35.
"Back then [in 1992], I had a great group of seniors around me. Then, I was a follower," said Reeves, whose dunk with 3:40 left ignited a game-ending 13-4 run by Oklahoma State "Now, I'm the leader."
Reeves' followers could not have been sharper in support of him, especially in the backcourt, where the Cowboys dominated.
Senior Rutherford stepped up most impressively, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the second half. After missing his first five three-point attempts, Rutherford hit four consecutive threes over five-minute stretch to demoralize the Crimson Tide. His last three gave the Cowboys a 49-42 lead with 6:35 left.
Then there was junior point guard Andre Owens, who bewildered the Alabama defense with excellent penetration and recorded 10 assists to go with six points.
The Crimson Tide's backcourt of Marvin Orange, Artie Griffin and backup Eric Washington barely showed up, contributing 10 points on combined 4-for-21 shooting, including 2-for-15 from three-point range. Griffin went scoreless in 30 minutes.
Oklahoma's starting backcourt of Owens and Rutherford outscored the Alabama starters 24-3.
"They made the plays. That's what it's all about at this level, and that's what it's all about this time of the year," Alabama coach David Hobbs said. "Both of their go-to guys delivered. Because of that, they're going to the final 16."
And because of McDyess' injury, the Crimson Tide faltered when the game was still there for the taking. McDyess, who dazzled Penn with 39 points and 19 rebounds, was headed for similar numbers against Oklahoma State.
Throughout the first half, the 6-9 sophomore traded baskets with Reeves, keeping Alabama within 28-27 at the break with 16 points.
But while going after a rebound with 14:53 left in the second half, just after he had given Alabama a 33-32 lead with an eight-foot jumper over Reeves, McDyess came up lame.
By the time McDyess returned, Oklahoma State had taken a 40-35 lead on Rutherford's first three-pointer with 11:38 left. McDyess finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds, but only managed six points after re-entering the game.
"That obviously wasn't a good turn of fortune for us," Hobbs said. "But that happens in basketball games. When that happens, somebody else has to step up."
Rutherford took over that role nicely for the Cowboys.
"I think they got tired of chasing me around those screens," said Rutherford, who added seven rebounds, four assists and four steals to his one-turnover performance. "I got open a few times, and some of the shots went in for me."
Once Rutherford warmed up, the passing lanes opened up for Reeves inside. And with McDyess still gimpy and its backcourt in a funk, Alabama could not match the Cowboys in crunch time.
"Good defense, good rebounding at the defensive end, smarts, recognizing their defenses, and not turning the ball over. We did all of those things," Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton said. "When we play as well as we played today, we can play with most teams in college basketball."