OKLAHOMA CITY — Mike White felt his team could have been more competitive against No. 7 Oklahoma State.
Sure, the Louisiana Tech coach believes Oklahoma State is a “legitimate Final Four contender,” but he likes his team as well.
While the Bulldogs (8-3) were effective at slowing down All-America guard Marcus Smart, there was little they could do down the stretch to avoid a 70-55 loss to the high-powered Cowboys (9-1).
Le’Bryan Nash scored 22 points as Oklahoma State overcame a sluggish start and pulled away after Louisiana Tech got within 49-42 with 8:44 remaining.
“We missed the few open looks that we had and just couldn’t cut into a lead, couldn’t get it going offensively against a terrific team,” White said. “I was proud of the way we defended and rebounded. We completed.”
With Louisiana Tech determined to slow down Smart, Nash grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and scored 15 of Oklahoma State’s 31 points in the first half. Nash made six of his first 11 shots to pick up the slack for Smart, who finished with 13 points.
Smart was only 1-of-4 shooting in the first half, and he said he made a conscious effort to be more of an all-around player who created shots for his teammates. He added five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Markel Brown had 13 points and Kamari Murphy added 10 for the Cowboys.
“I’m just trying to focus on making sure that I don’t force a lot of things because I do have a talented group of guys around me that I really don’t need to force things,” Smart said. “They can create also, so I just kind of let them get in the flow of their game.”
Chris Anderson scored 14 points and Alex Hamilton added 12 points for Louisiana Tech, which held Oklahoma State scoreless over the first 4 minutes of the game. But the Bulldogs couldn’t maintain the energy down the stretch.
The Cowboys used their athleticism and multiple scoring options to turn a close game into a lopsided victory in the All-College Classic.
“I thought we’d be more competitive to be honest, but I just think that we struggled so much from an offensive standpoint,” White said. “(We) had a lot of droughts offensively, couldn’t really get into a rhythm.”
Louisiana Tech trailed by only seven points with less than 9 minutes remaining, but Smart helped build Oklahoma State’s lead back to double digits. He put back a missed shot, then found Murphy for a dunk to put the Cowboys ahead 55-42 with 6:25 remaining.
Oklahoma State hadn’t played since a 79-52 rout of South Carolina on Dec. 6.
The Cowboys struggled early to regain their rhythm and didn’t score their first point until Brown hit a free throw with 15:41 remaining in the first half.
Oklahoma State missed all five of its 3-point attempts and made only 7 of 13 free throws in the first half, allowing Louisiana Tech to hang around into the second half.
“(We) didn’t get off to a good start,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “We can contribute it to taking eight days off, finals week, different things, but we just didn’t make good decisions offensively early in the game.”
Louisiana Tech, on the other hand, looked fresh playing its second game in four days and facing its highest ranked opponent since the two teams met in 1991.
The Bulldogs relied on their defense to take a 3-0 lead in the opening minutes and hold the Cowboys to just 38.7 percent shooting in the first half.
But Nash and Smart created some fast-break opportunities, and Oklahoma State used a 10-2 run midway through the first half to take a lead it never relinquished.
The Cowboys expanded their lead to 22 points and pulled away for their second consecutive win following their only loss of the season, a 73-68 defeat to No. 16 Memphis.