OKLAHOMA CITY - Coach Eddie Sutton nicknamed him "The Warrior" before he had played a game for Oklahoma State, when as a redshirt freshman he had 20 rebounds in an exhibition game.
Four-and-a-half years later nothing has changed for Ivan McFarlin. He remains at the Cowboys' center both emotionally and on the lineup card - a 6-foot-8, 240-pounder on a team better known for senior stars Joey Graham and John Lucas and flashy freshman JamesOn Curry.
That never was more evident than yesterday, when McFarlin dominated Southern Illinois in an NCAA second-round game at the Ford Center. The senior scored a career-high 31 points, shooting 10-for-13 from the field and 11-for-12 from the line, as the Cowboys won, 85-77.
Sutton said he thought it was the best game he had seen McFarlin play.
"I was just feeling it," McFarlin said. "When I got the ball, I just tried to make a strong move and get to the bucket."
The victory advanced No. 2 seed Oklahoma State (26-6) to a regional semifinal against third-seeded Arizona on Thursday.
It was the second game in a row McFarlin compensated for a lackluster performance by Graham, who scored eight points and played just 22 minutes because of foul trouble.
"We can't win against Arizona or Illinois or teams like that unless we get him to play [better]," said Sutton, who warned Graham that he was costing himself "a lot of money" in the coming NBA draft.
Said Graham: "My weekend was not as expected, but you have games like that."
McFarlin dominated the undersized Salukis (27-8) inside while Curry gave the Cowboys a charge from the outside. After not taking a shot in the first half, Curry made three key three-point baskets in the second - the first two during a 12-0 run immediately after intermission - and finished with 18 points.
Entering the game, McFarlin was averaging 11.8 points and had not scored more than 20 in a game this season. But he lived up to his reputation for fine play in the NCAAs. He scored 18 points Friday against Southeastern Louisiana and has averaged 14.9 points and 9.5 rebounds in 10 tournament games.
As on Friday, Oklahoma State enjoyed overwhelming support from its orange-clad fans. The din seemed to confuse the Salukis at times, and Oklahoma State appeared to get the benefit of some close calls.
"We played in a home game [for the opponent]," Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery said. "The crowd got into it, and it was tough for us to get out of it."
It appeared the Cowboys might become the third No. 2 seed to fall over the weekend when the Salukis led 46-39 at halftime. But after a scolding from Sutton, the Cowboys tightened their defense.
The Salukis hung tough and trailed 72-68 when Curry hit another big three with 1:26 left. The Cowboys shot 54 percent from the field, 50 percent on three-pointers and 88 percent from the line.
With four senior starters and Sutton expected to retire after next season, there is a sense of urgency among the Cowboys to make this NCAA run count. Thanks largely to McFarlin, it will last at least four more days.
Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS-Shaw 3-4 4-5 10, Warren 1-2 0-2 2, Brooks 5-16 6-7 17, Tatum 5-11 9-9 22, Hairston 2-9 0-0 5, Dale 3-5 2-2 9, Owen 3-6 2-2 8, Falker 0-0 1-2 1, Young 1-3 1-1 3, Foster 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-56 25-30 77. OKLAHOMA STATE-J.Graham 3-6 2-2 8, McFarlin 10-13 11-12 31, Lucas 5-14 5-5 17, Bobik 1-3 0-0 3, Curry 3-5 9-10 18, Steyn 0-0 0-0 0, Dove 0-0 0-0 0, S.Graham 1-1 1-2 3, Monds 0-0 0-0 0, Crawford 2-4 1-2 5, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-46 29-33 85. Half-S. Illinois, 46-39. 3-point goals-S. Illinois 6-19 (Tatum 3-5, Dale 1-2, Hairston 1-4, Brooks 1-7, Young 0-1), Oklahoma St. 6-12 (Curry 3-4, Lucas 2-6, Bobik 1-2). Fouled out-Falker, Shaw. Rebounds-S. Illinois 28 (Brooks 7), Oklahoma St. 30 (Crawford 7). Assists-S. Illinois 14 (Brooks 4), Oklahoma St. 18 (J.Graham 6). Total fouls-S. Illinois 28, Oklahoma St. 23.