MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 12, 2011

Putting pieces in place

By Chris Day
CNHI

— STILLWATER – In the world of jigsaw puzzles, the trick is to take the pieces and transform them into the picture on the front of the box.

In the world of the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, coach Travis Ford has all the pieces, but the picture on the box remains hidden.

A month into the season, Ford keeps putting different pieces together searching for the fit that will reveal a picture of the Cowboys playing in the NCAA tournament in March.

“We have played a lot of guys early but are trying to figure out who the top eight are,” Ford said Monday. “No one has stepped up and showed us they deserve to play 30 minutes at (guard, forward or center).”

Four Oklahoma State players – Le’Bryan Nash, Keiton Page, Markel Brown and Jean-Paul Olukemi – have averaged 23 minutes or more through nine games.

Five players – Cezar Guerrero, Reger Dowell, Philip Jurick, Michael Cobbins and Fred Gulley – are averaging at least 16 minutes a game.

“We continue to try to figure out rotations and combinations,” Ford said.

The Cowboys (6-3) are trying to uncover that box cover picture on the road. They have played just two games at Gallagher-Iba Arena since Nov. 15 and are in the midst of five straight road games.

Oklahoma State picked up its first road win this season on Dec. 7 when the team defeated Missouri State 72-67. The Pokes lost to No. 15 Pitt 74-68 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“It’s hard to hide youth and inexperience,” Ford said.

The Cowboys face New Mexico at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the All-College Basketball Classic in Oklahoma City. They continue on the road with a Dec. 21 game against No. 23 Alabama in Birmingham, Ala., and a Dec. 28 matchup with SMU in Dallas.

OSU doesn’t return home until Dec. 31 when the Cowboys host Virginia Tech at 11 a.m.

The difficult road schedule makes it an even bigger challenge to identify key puzzle pieces, Ford said. Oklahoma State went 1-10 on the road in the 2010-2011 season.

The OSU road record makes the win at Missouri State in Springfield, Mo., a critical victory.

Ford compared it to a Big 12 Conference road victory because the game was televised, the arena was packed and the game was a highlight on the Missouri State schedule.

“We struggled on the road last year. It’s different to go to someone else’s home court,” he said. OSU’s other road games have been at Madison Square Garden.

The Cowboys trailed for most of the Missouri State game. They held the Bears scoreless for the final four minutes to record the win.

“It was a huge win,” Ford said.

OSU trailed most of the game against Pitt, too. The Pokes pulled within 4 points late in the contest but never got the big 3-pointer, rebound or steal that would give the Cowboys momentum.

“We are just an average team now. We are trying to reach good, trying to become very good and trying to become great,” Ford said.

– Day is sports editor for the Stillwater NewsPress.