GAME NOTES: The ninth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, coming off their first loss of the season, will attempt to get back on the right track on Friday night when they host the South Carolina Gamecocks as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
South Carolina hasn't been very busy during the first month of the season, as it sits at 2-2 after only four games, and this marks its first bout in nearly two weeks after last defeating FIU on Nov. 24 (84-72). The Gamecocks have not fared well on the road this season, losing at both Baylor (66-64) and Clemson (71-57).
Oklahoma State participated in last weekend's Old Spice Classic, and after beating Purdue (97-87) and Butler (69-67) in the early rounds, it fell to Memphis in the championship game, 73-68, to dip to 7-1 on the season. The Cowboys, who are 4-0 in Stillwater, had previously beaten Memphis on Nov. 19, 101-80, and their four home wins have come by an average margin of 40.8 points.
South Carolina won the only previous meeting between these two programs during the 1975-76 season, 70-61.
The Gamecocks put forth a strong effort in their latest win over FIU, as they shot 50.8 percent from the floor, 42.1 percent from 3-point range and 76.2 percent from the free-throw line. Pacing four players in double figures was Tyrone Johnson with 18 points while also contributing seven assists to just one turnover. Brenton Williams and Jaylen Shaw each scored 16 points, Demetrius Henry netted 14, and Mindaugas Kacinas narrowly missed a double- double with nine points and nine rebounds. South Carolina's offensive output has been solid this season (71.8 ppg), but its most impressive attribute has been its stout defense, which holds opponents to only 37.6 percent shooting and 63.2 points per game. Thornwell (13.0 ppg), Johnson (12.3 ppg) and Williams (10.5 ppg) are consistent scoring options, even though the latter two shoot under 39 percent from the field. Kacinas (8.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg) patrols the paint.
The Cowboys lost the lead midway through the second half of the Old Space Classic title tilt when Memphis went on a 17-5 run to take a four-point lead with 8:08 left, and while the Pokes kept the game within one possession down the stretch, they would never regain the advantage. Phil Forte provided a spark off the bench with 19 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and 8- of-8 from the foul line. It was a rare down performance from Marcus Smart, who scored 12 points on just 4-of-13 shooting while committing five turnovers. Markel Brown chipped in 10 points to the losing effort. Even with the disappointing effort earlier in the week, Oklahoma State still has one of the nation's best offensive attacks, as it ranks third in scoring (91.9 ppg) and tied for 14th in field goal percentage (.513). Smart is making an early case for National Player of the Year with 20.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.0 steals per game. Brown (16.9 ppg) is an excellent second option, while Forte (13.6 ppg), Le'Bryan Nash (12.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Williams (10.3 ppg) also contribute to one of the country's most impressive squads.
OSU had its hands full against Memphis the last time out, but it's certainly an excusable loss on a neutral floor to a very good team. While USC has shown some promise early on, expect the Cowboys to make relatively easy work of the Gamecocks in their return home.