In mid-January, the thought of the Oklahoma State Cowboys making this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament looked bleak after starting Big 12 play 0-6. Now the Cowboys aren’t just in the tournament, they’re seeded 10th in the Midwest Region’s and tip-off Friday against the red-hot 7th seeded Michigan Wolverines at 12:15 EST on CBS.
Head coach Brad Underwood joined The Jim Rome Show on Wednesday and talked about the mindset his team had following that sixth straight conference loss, which came at home against Kansas State and what seemingly saved their season.
“We were searching. We were reeling. We had been 10-2 in the non-conference and placed third in Maui, and all of a sudden it was like getting punched and knocked out,” Underwood said. “We were right there, we were on the cusp of not getting off the mat and our seniors Phil Forte and Leyton Hammonds kept rallying.
“We had to make some changes defensively, we weren’t turning people over. The guard play in this league is off the chart. We weren’t far off, we led in five of those games and we led down to the last three or four minutes, and I knew I had to change a few things to help us. We made some subtle changes on the defensive side and then we came together. We started doing the little things and freshman that weren’t playing like freshman and Jawun Evans became the All-American that he is and everything just kind of came together, and we’ve been playing very very good basketball ever since.”
Underwood credited senior Phil Forte’s leadership for the turnaround.
“It was all on him. It was literally him,” Underwood said. “He’s a guy that had to get out his comfort zone a little bit. Phil wants to be liked, he’s genuinely a very, very nice person. But he started getting in people’s shirts, I mean he was confrontational and he was challenging guys. He was demanding guys do the right things. Without that, we wouldn’t have turned it around. So I give him a tremendous amount of credit, and we’ve got great character in our locker room. We’ve got great guys, and that and Phil’s leadership allowed us to turn it around.”
While en route to the Big 10 Conference Tournament, a plane carrying Michigan’s team crashed during an aborted take-off attempt in high winds. After finally arriving in D.C., the Wolverines played inspired basketball, winning the entire tournament. Underwood acknowledged Michigan’s heroics and what he expects to see against them on Friday.
“They’re hot, and they’re playing extremely well. You just don’t win four games in a row and not be playing great basketball,” Underwood said. “They’re extremely well coached. I think it’s an unbelievable story how John [Beilein] got that team to rally and deal with the adversity it dealt with, it speaks volumes to the young men in their locker room. But this is a team that shoots it from all five spots, and we haven’t seen that in the Big 12. We haven’t seen a five man like [Moritz] Wagner who steps out and makes shots, so it’s been a little bit of a different prep but their very very good, and they’ve got a point guard [Derrick Walton Jr.] who was MVP of the tournament. So this is a veteran team who’s playing very, very well at this time.”