Oklahoma St. 85, S. Illinois 77

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—Ivan McFarlin showed why his Oklahoma State teammates call him “The Warrior.”

With leading scorer Joey Graham seated on the bench thanks to four fouls, McFarlin powered a 10-2 run that extended Oklahoma State’s lead, and the Cowboys beat seventh-seeded Southern Illinois 85-77 Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

McFarlin, a 6-foot-8 forward, made 10 of his 13 shots and was 11-for-12 from the free-throw line. His 31 points are a single-game high for any player in the tournament this year. None were more impressive than the ones he scored during the decisive run.

“I was just feeling it,” said McFarlin, a fifth-year senior.

With the win, Oklahoma State advances to play in the round of 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1991-92. The Cowboys (26-6) will play third-seeded Arizona next weekend in the Chicago Regional in a meeting of the two oldest coaches in the tournament. Arizona’s Lute Olson is 70, and Sutton is 69.

McFarlin, the Cowboys’ interior workhorse, thrives in the NCAA tournament, averaging 11.8 points and 9.5 rebounds in nine previous games. His teammates dubbed him “The Warrior” for his blue-collar attitude on the court that is completely the opposite from his lighthearted, jovial demeanor off it.

“He comes out every night and gives it all he’s got,” teammate John Lucas III said. “I don’t know how he’s able to stay up and joke around with us on the bus ride, the way he plays.”

In the run, McFarlin first scored on a reverse layup from a pass by Terrence Crawford, then returned the favor with a pass to set up Crawford’s right-handed jam.

After Stetson Hairston answered with a driving layup for Southern Illinois, Lucas hit a jumper in the lane before McFarlin added a pair of layups under the basket against LaMar Owen.

He went stumbling downcourt after a steal on the Salukis’ next possession and got up with a big smile after he and Matt Shaw got tangled up, then slapped a high five to JamesOn Curry before heading to the bench for a timeout. His two ensuing free throws gave Oklahoma State a 68-57 lead—its largest of the game.

The Salukis (27-8) got back within 72-68 on a 3-pointer by Jamaal Tatum, but Curry called for the ball and answered with a 3-pointer of his own. The second-seeded Cowboys hit all eight of their free throws down the stretch and McFarlin added a two-handed jam with 44.3 seconds left to keep his team ahead.

“He just dominated us physically,” Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery said. “It was all toughness.”

Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton called McFarlin out of the game with 14.9 seconds left, and gave him a hug before he was allowed to sit down. Athletic director Harry Birdwell also gave McFarlin a bear hug while a crowd clad in orange stood to applaud.

McFarlin’s career could just as easily have been over before the season started. After joining the Cowboys as partial qualifier, McFarlin had to graduate in 3 1/2 years to gain an extra year of eligibility. He studied hard and got that done in December 2003, and he’s now on his way to a master’s degree.

In the process, he’s gained the respect of his teammates as a captain.

“When Ivan’s on the court and he starts yelling, he’s fighting to get rebounds and all the loose balls, it makes your game rise up too,” Lucas said.

McFarlin is one of the most successful players in the country with 101 career wins—the fourth-highest total among active players—and he’s one of only two Cowboys to start 100 consecutive games. But start No. 101 ranks among his best.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him play any better,” Sutton said.

He got help from Curry—a 19-year-old freshman—during the Cowboys’ second-half comeback. Curry hit a pair of 3-pointers as Oklahoma State stormed out of halftime with 12 consecutive points to take a 51-46 lead.

“At halftime, Coach jumped on us and got us motivated,” Lucas said. “He wasn’t negative at all. Everything was positive. Don’t listen to the tone, he tells us, listen to the message. We came out and did that.”

The Salukis came back to go up 52-51, but McFarlin’s two free throws with 14:06 left gave the Cowboys the lead for good.

Curry finished with 18 points—all in the second half—and Lucas had 17. Tatum finished with 22 points to lead the Salukis.

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