The Oklahoma State Cowgirls finished the regular season by defeating Missouri 68-47 in front of 2,412 fans on a seniorless senior night. But that doesn't mean that some juniors didn't transform into seniors on Eddie Sutton Court at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
After a nearly half-court 3-pointer by Kylie Simmons found its mark for the Tigers to finish the first the score was tied at 29 all. But head coach of the Cowgirls, Jim Littell, made some adjustments to stop Mizzou from shooting threes and taking care of the post with one-on-one coverage. In the first half, the Tigers sunk six long-range shots but went 0-for-10 in the second.
"Frustrating, absolutely," Mizzou head coach Robin Pingeton said of the second half. "We've struggled the last two games in our second half. We played Texas and up at halftime and came out and had a real hard second half. Same thing tonight. Got lucky with a three at the buzzer to go in tied and just seemed to struggle with that second half.
"I didn't think anything looked very smooth tonight on the offensive end and on the other end I just thought they were so impressive and physical and confident and we couldn't buy a bucket and they just took it at us ... I thought Oklahoma State played with a lot of energy tonight, just relentless. They go so deep, they're young ... They're so well balanced with their inside-out game, and they've got great versatility in their post players. Young team, but awfully talented team."
Young, indeed. But like I said, some of that youth has grown up their game exponentially over the past few months.
Juniors Lindsey Keller and Toni Young showed their muscle and finesse in the post. Keller finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, her third double-double of the season, before her trip through the media circuit. Young, who's had a somewhat struggle-filled junior year after her stellar sophomore campaign, finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting and six rebounds in 13 minutes.
"When Toni Young plays well it takes our team to a different level and I thought she had her best game of the year," Littell said.
But it wasn't just junior posts that showed their maturity, the sophomores matriculated classes on Saturday, too. Kendra Suttles streaked her way to a career-high 14 rebounds to go with 12 points from her starting spot.
"She just went up and got some rebounds and she had great position inside," said Littell. "I thought she did a good job of blocking off and 14 rebounds is big for her ... She stepped up and had a very, very, very sound game for us. When Kendra and Toni play the way they do, or the way they did tonight, it makes us a pretty good team."
But the team wasn't done with their team effort. Sophomore center Vicky McIntyre efficiently contributed eight points and four rebounds in her 10 minutes on the court. Second-year point guard Tiffany Bias commanded the team effectively, as always.
"Everything goes through this one right here," Littell said as he heaped praise on Bias. "When she plays well our team plays well. She really pushed the ball, had nine assists, played 37 minutes again and she's the glue to us. "
And the freshmen went to work, as well. Jordan Schultz drained three of her four 3-point shots and finished with nine points for the Cowgirls. Liz Donohoe, OSU's freshman of the year candidate couldn't get her shot to fall from the field, but contributed in a myriad of other ways. Donohoe nabbed a career-high 15 rebounds to go with five assists, two blocks and a steal for the Pokes.
"Liz struggled offensively, but when you struggle offensively and find another way to help your team that's a sign of being a good player," Littell said. "She had 2 points but she had 15 rebounds and 8 of those were offensive rebounds."
With three double-digit rebounders, the Cowgirls finished the night with a 52-42 advantage on the boards and their 20 offensive rebounds led to 17 second-chance points. The Cowgirls will now face Missouri again in the Big 12 tournament's #7 vs. #10 seed matchup Wednesday. OSU finished the season on a three-game winning streak to keep their NCAA postseason hopes alive and Littell recognizes the no-quit attitude in the team.
"It just shows the character that we have in the locker room," Littell said. "It would have been awful easy to quit three or four games ago or just say we'll wait until next year, and that wasn't the mentality of this group. They've wanted to get better, they've wanted to succeed.
"They were not happy when they were losing and all you can do when you get in those type of tough times is keep believing in each other and keep grinding and keep trying to keep better and we're playing our best basketball right now and it's because of their effort and their attitude. I'm just proud of them that they just hung in there and have been resilient."
Mizzou's Pingeton talked about that resiliency, not just on the basketball court, but their strength in the face of tragedy, after the game: