Saturday, March 17, 2007

1993-94 Redux: Missouri 72, Oklahoma State 70

February 12, 1994


Contradicting the poet, Norm Stewart and Eddie Sutton show you can go home again. In fact, you can stay there and coach.

Sutton, whose Oklahoma State team plays at Missouri today, came back to Stillwater in 1990. He and Stewart are the only Big Eight coaches to currently lead their alma maters.

Actually, the Big Eight is alum-dominated compared to the rest of college basketball. Sutton's arrival offset the loss of Lon Kruger, the former Kansas State star and coach who went to Florida. The Missouri Valley has no players turned coaches at their old schools. The Southwest Conference has one, Willis Wilson at Rice. Some of the more prominent examples are Larry Finch at Memphis State, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and Gary Williams at Maryland.

From the way Stewart and Sutton enjoy it, more coaches should try a permanent homecoming.

Not that it came easy.

"I probably had 15 migraine headaches the first month," Stewart said. "It was just that type of situation." That was in 1967, after Missouri had gone 6-43 the previous two seasons. Stewart returned after six years as coach at State College of Iowa, now Northern Iowa.

Both played in the '50s. Sutton didn't go back to OSU for more than a visit until 1990.

"They had tried to hire me, but the timing was never right," Sutton said.

After three years at Southern Idaho Junior College, he took his first NCAA job at Creighton in 1969. He would have left Creighton for OSU, but once he made the jump to Arkansas in 1974, Sutton wasn't looking back. "We had it going pretty good," he said.

The next stop was Kentucky, where things weren't so good despite an 88-39 record in four seasons. The fallout from an NCAA investigation at UK left Sutton available. After taking a year off from coaching, Sutton succeeded Leonard Hamilton at OSU.

"People talk about pressure to win at Kentucky," he said. "I've felt more pressure, maybe coming back to get this program back on track."

In the 25 years before Sutton's arrival, OSU had made only one NCAA Tournament appearance. The Cowboys are on track to make it four in four years under Sutton, who is the only coach to take four schools to the Tournament.

The move reunited Sutton with Henry Iba, his mentor and the Cowboy coach from 1935-70. Iba remained a presence at OSU until his death last year.

"He wanted to see Oklahoma State basketball bounce back to the level we have it now," Sutton said. "He certainly loved Oklahoma State more than anyone I've ever known."

Stewart worked for his college coach, Sparky Stalcup, as an assistant. Stalcup was assistant athletic director when Stewart returned.

"He was my friend," Stewart said. "He was my boss, but he didn't assume any other position that could have been a negative factor. It was completely positive."

Stewart is now in his 27th season. Then he was a young coach.

"I think early on I felt there was a downside, and that was I was still considered a player, still remembered as a player, not being able to guard or not being able to shoot, just as that young individual rather than as a professional."

When he graduated, Stewart was thinking about playing professionally, not coaching as a profession. A shorter stay than he wanted in pro ball rerouted him, and Stalcup brought him back as an assistant. "I had a wonderful opportunity to come back here and get started at this level," Stewart said. "As I look back, what a fortunate break that was."

Sutton has kept things in the family at OSU. Two of his three sons transferred to play for him. Sean, who began his career at Kentucky, is now an assistant coach to his father. Scott is a senior who comes off the bench.

All three Suttons played in Gallagher-Iba Arena, although it's undergone a major renovation and a name expansion honoring Iba since Eddie played.

"It's still the same feeling when you come in," he said.

"It doesn't seat as many people as when I played here. It's the same feeling, the same atmosphere."

It looks and feels like home for Sutton. "I think it will be the last place I coach," he said.

The same has seemed true for Stewart for years now at Missouri.

The temptation to go elsewhere probably was strongest in the early '70s, when he made a reputation by turning Missouri around.

"I had chances after we got it established," Stewart said.

"I had opportunities, professionally, for the NBA. I didn't feel comfortable, and it didn't seem like the timing was right.

"I really felt, on the other side of it, that we'd been able to create something here so why not keep the match."

February 13, 1994


Melvin Booker had already played a great game when Missouri took its shot to beat Oklahoma State yesterday at the Hearnes Center. The game was tied at 70, Booker had a game-high 24 points and team-high eight rebounds when he drove the lane in the final seconds. The play worked for Missouri, just not precisely the way it was drawn up.

“I drove to the hole, and I think one of their guys hit it, and it hit off my leg into Kelly's hand, and he laid it in.”

Freshman forward Kelly Thames kept the ball from going out of bounds on the baseline, gathered himself and laid the ball in at a tough angle over Bryant Reeves, OSU's 7-foot center. The Tigers won 72-70.

“I hope they gave me an assist for that,” Booker said. They didn't, but Booker finished with a game-high four assists.

“It's the way the season's going for us,” Booker said. “Everything's going right for us.

“If I can hit it off my leg, and one of my guys gets it and goes in, I'll take it all day.”

The Tigers (18-2), ranked 15th in the nation, ran their Big Eight record to 9-0.

Thames finished with four points.

“I just had to shoot it because I knew that time was running out,” Thames said. “Hopefully just throw it up there, somebody else could tip it in. But it caught the rim, and it went in.”

Reeves had been in foul trouble during most of the game. He picked up his fourth with 13:13 to play.

“The shot that he hit was a tough shot, a very tough shot,” Reeves said. “He had to maneuver around and get it in on me. He didn't have any angle. It was a shot you're very happy he hit, but we're very sad he hit.”

Except for distance, it was the same type of shot that Reeves hit last year in Stillwater to send the game into overtime where Oklahoma State pulled away.

“On my part, it's just being at the right place at the right time,” Thames said.

“He made the play,” Missouri coach Norm Stewart said. “I don't know how he got the ball back to the basket.

“He had to come back in and really had to kind of spin it back a little bit, I think.”

The Tigers' grip on the game had spun out of their hands earlier.

Missouri looked as good as it has at any time this season in taking a 26-11 lead in the first 10 minutes. Oklahoma State (16-7, 5-3) cut it to 33-28 before Mark Atkins hit a three-pointer on the last shot of the half for a 40-28 lead.

“I thought defensively to start the ballgame, we were really strong,” Stewart said. “We broke them down. We did the same thing to them that they did to us down there. We broke them out, pushed them out of their offense.”

The Cowboys coughed up 15 first-half turnovers as the Tigers pressured them from the start.

“We played two different halves,” OSU coach Eddie Sutton said. “The second half we played very well and did the things that would allow us to beat Missouri on the road. The first half we made too many mistakes as far as turnovers, and that led to a lot of easy baskets on their part.”

The Cowboys tightened up in the second half. Despite his foul trouble, Reeves was a force inside. Jevon Crudup, who had muffled Reeves in the second half last month at Stillwater, fouled out with 36.4 seconds left. Reeves led OSU with 23 points, made seven of 11 field goal attempts and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds.

The Tigers twice led by 14 points in the second half and were up 62-50 with 11:34 to play.

Reeves tied it at 66 with a short jumper and again at 68 with two free throws. Fred Burley made one of two free throws to tie it for the last time at 70.

“I don't think we were lax, I think they just stepped it up,” Stewart said. After Thames' basket, Brooks Thompson had a faint chance at shooting down the Tigers. He took the inbounds pass with 2.1 seconds, turned and fired but hit only the glass to the left of the basket.

Thames' shot stood up.

“When it left his fingers, I didn't think it was going to go in,” Thompson said, “but it rolled around and dropped, and my heart dropped with it.”

“I just threw it in,” Thames said. “I was very thrilled about that.”