by Jim O’Connell
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP)—Travis Ford went to a cliche to sum up Oklahoma State’s two trips to Madison Square Garden.
“You better be careful what you wish for,” Ford said Saturday after the Cowboys lost 74-68 to No. 15 Pittsburgh, their third loss of the season and they all have come at the building known as “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
|‘CLASSIC’ MATCH UP—Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash (2) shoots over Pittsburgh’s Nasir Robinson (35) during the first half at the CARQUEST auto parts classic, Dec. 10, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II).
“I don’t know if we’re coming back anytime soon. The people treated us so well. I think these trips have made us better. Hopefully we’ll learn from this game but the Garden has not been kind.”
Oklahoma State lost to Stanford and Virginia Tech last month in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Cowboys fell behind early against the Panthers on Saturday and couldn’t overcome a 16-point second-half deficit.
“I thought we would play better than we did,” Ford said. “We still gave ourselves a chance even with all the stats that didn’t go our way. Hopefully our team sees we’re close.”
The Panthers (9-1) led by as many as 16 points in the second half, but Oklahoma State (6-3) was able to get within five twice late. Each time, Ashton Gibbs was able to make at least one free throw.
But the game was won because of the Panthers’ rebounding, a part of the game they have always excelled in and Pittsburgh is fourth in the nation in that statistic right now.
“It is what we do,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “It is ingrained in our program. We recruit guys with a nose for the ball.”
The Panthers finished with a 43-25 rebound advantage and outscored the Cowboys 40-26 in the paint.
“Rebounding was the key,” Dixon said. “That’s what we do.”
Oklahoma State senior guard Keiton Page said the loss did show a lot to the Cowboys.
“We can compete with a team like Pittsburgh and we went down to the wire,” he said. “We competed the entire game. It shows we can be better if we do the little things. The sky’s the limit for this basketball team.”
Nasir Robinson had 15 points for Pittsburgh, while Lamar Patterson added 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
“We have a rebounding drill in practice where we throw each other around pretty good,” Robinson said. “We just go out and rebound and everything else takes care of itself.”
Le’Bryan Nash had 20 points for the Cowboys (6-3).
“You can’t get outrebounded like that,” Nash said. “It was a terrible job by us.”
Gibbs had eight points—including two 3s—in Pitt’s 17-7 run to close the first half that gave the Panthers a 42-30 lead.
“You just can’t get down to a top 15 team by 12 at halftime and get outrebounded significantly,” Ford said. “We dug ourselves a hole and when we came back that should have been a run to put us up instead of getting close. We didn’t adjust to their physicality until midway in the second half and we played well from then on.”
Oklahoma State got within 71-66 with 20 seconds to play when Markel Brown stole a pass, scored and was fouled. He missed the free throw and Gibbs made two foul shots one second later.
Reger Dowell’s layup with 10 seconds to go made it 73-68, but Gibbs made one of two from the line. The miss was his only one of the game as he finished 7 of 8 and the Panthers were 18 of 29. The Cowboys were 9 of 13 from the free throw line.
“Gibbs just controls the basketball game. He is a very impressive player,” Ford said of the Big East preseason player of the year. “All they say about him is true. There is a great pace to his game.”