DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - Looking at the thicket of bodies clogging
the middle of the floor, Oklahoma State's Byron Eaton wasn't sure
how he'd create his final shot. So, he kept dribbling.
Stunningly, after 40 minutes of give-no-ground basketball,
everything opened up right in front of him.
The Cowboys' barrel-chested point guard found a clear path to
the basket for a three-point play with 7.2 seconds left Friday,
lifting his team to a 77-75 victory over Tennessee in the first
round of the NCAA tournament.
Oklahoma State (23-11) will play either East Tennessee State or
Pittsburgh, the top seed in the East Regional. The Panthers
sprawled across the first three rows of seats behind the Oklahoma
State basket for the start of the second half, doing a little
They were gone long before Eaton - a five-sport star in high
school who also played a little football - gave the game its final
Tennessee (21-13) got caught flat-footed, allowing Eaton to
drive the lane untouched. Tyler Smith came in late and
unsuccessfully tried to block the shot, which fell through the net
as Eaton tumbled to the floor after the contact.
"He just gave me the middle," Eaton said. "I was looking for
the contact. I knew it was coming. I just tried to concentrate on
making the basket."
Smith had a chance to win it for Tennessee, but his jumper from
behind the arc hit the side of the rim and bounced up to the top of
the backboard as the buzzer sounded. Smith led all scorers with 21
"I knew it was going to come down to the wire," Oklahoma State
coach Travis Ford said. "If you study our team and their team,
that was just the way it was going to be. We figured out how to
Tennessee has reached the NCAA tournament in all four years
under coach Bruce Pearl, who's had some of his best coaching
moments there - starting with his emergency stint as the Boston
College mascot for one game in the 1981 tournament.
This wasn't one of them. He left the floor complaining to the
referees that no foul was called on Smith's final shot, which came
off a play the Volunteers run in practice every day.
"It's a shot that he takes and makes a lot at the end of
practice," Pearl said. "I didn't want anybody else taking that
No matter how it turned out, this NCAA appearance amounted to a
big step forward for Oklahoma State, which advanced to the Final
Four in 2004, then fell on hard times. The Cowboys were relegated
to the NIT the last three years, prompting them to hire Ford.
Even though it was a transition season in Stillwater - Ford
estimates that he's installed perhaps 60 percent of his offensive
and defensive systems - Oklahoma State was finally back playing
with the big boys. His feistiness seemed to rub off on the Cowboys,
giving them an edge they'd lacked.
Ford's fiery demeanor temporarily cost them on Friday.
Unhappy over his team's early effort, he told an assistant coach
he was going to get a technical to fire up his players. He angrily
complained about a call during a timeout and got a technical from
Mike Sanzere. The two free throws were part of a five-point spurt
that gave Tennessee its biggest lead at 32-25. Ford berated Sanzere
after tearing into his players.
"I wanted to get it," he said of the technical. "I told them:
'You guys have got to get as fired up as I am now."'
With their free-flowing style, the Cowboys are accustomed to
overcoming big leads and giving them away. Eaton hit a pair of
pull-up jumpers in a 13-2 run that closed the half and put Oklahoma
State up 38-34.
The stocky, 5-foot-11 guard also had a hand - two of them,
actually - in a tone-setting moment during the run. He and
Tennessee's Wayne Chism, a 6-foot-9 forward who weighs 242 pounds,
wrapped their arms around a rebound and wouldn't let go. Chism
yanked and they both tumbled to the ground, but Eaton refused to
let give up the ball.
Ford liked that.
Oklahoma State tried to set the run-and-shoot style that made it
one of the nation's highest-scoring teams. Tennessee stuck with its
halfcourt game, trying to take advantage inside.
It was a stalemate - 12 ties, 18 lead changes - until Eaton, who
was playing in his first NCAA game, found that final opening.
"It was one of my goals to get here and win some games. I just
wish it had come a little sooner in my career," the senior said.