Originally published March 10, 2010 at 08:12p.m., updated March 11, 2010 at 06:58a.m.
Kansas City, Mo. Watching his team during its shootaround before the Big 12 tournament, Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford was concerned. The normally loose group of players were quiet, spending nearly 20 minutes saying barely a word.
Ford wondered: Were they in awe, focused, or was their inexperience coming through?
He got his answer in hurry.
Keiton Page scored 19 of his 24 points in a dominating first half, and Oklahoma State withstood a brief rally in the season's third Bedlam game to beat Oklahoma 81-67 on Wednesday night in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament.
"Being Bedlam, it adds to being the first game of the tournament," Ford said. "There's extra meaning to it, no question. It's a tough first game to play. We're just glad to get it over with."
The Cowboys (22-9) tried to get it over with quickly, racing an 18-point lead in the first six minutes before allowing Oklahoma to creep back in it with a shaky start to the second half. Obi Muonelo kept the Sooners from completing the comeback, scoring 10 of his 15 points after the rally to send the seventh-seeded Cowboys into Thursday's quarterfinals against ninth-ranked Kansas State, the No. 2 seed.
Bedlam in the Big 12? Turns out nothing could be better for the Cowboys.
"Coach told us that by this time of year, we've worked hard and worked on everything we need to work on," Muonelo said. "It's time to have fun. We were having fun out there."
Oklahoma (13-18), seeded 10th, got off to jittery start without leading scorer Willie Warren (ankle) and never fully recovered to close out a disappointing season filled with injuries, suspensions and inconsistency.
The Sooners ended the year with a nine-game losing streak, their longest since dropping 10 in a row in 1963-64, and missed the postseason a year after reaching the NCAA regional finals. Tommy Mason-Griffin had 22 points and nine assists, and Steven Pledger added 18 points to cap Oklahoma's first losing season since 1980-81.
"It wasn't fun for me, not one second of it," Sooners coach Jeff Capel said. "It was a very difficult year from the beginning. It's not just the wins and losses — and we had a lot more losses than wins — it was just very frustrating on a lot of different angles."
The third Bedlam game came after a split in the regular season.
Oklahoma won in overtime at home with the Big 12 player of the year, OSU's James Anderson, on the bench for most of the second half with a head injury. With Anderson back, the Cowboys won by 21 in the second meeting in Stillwater.
Bedlam III looked like a blowout at the beginning.
Muonelo opened the game with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and Page followed with two more to make it 9-0. Oklahoma State kept hitting, Oklahoma kept missing, and the Cowboys were quickly up 20-2, an opening blitz capped by Page's third basket from beyond the arc.
Page hit two more 3-pointers in the half, including a contested one from 30 feet that hit the front of the rim and tumbled over, and Oklahoma State made 17 of 29 shots to lead 45-23.
But, this being Bedlam, it wasn't over. Not yet.
Oklahoma tightened defensively, found its rhythm offensively and opened the second half with an 11-0 run. Oklahoma State didn't score in the first 4:44 of the half as the Sooners hit seven of their first nine shots, cutting what seemed like an insurmountable lead to 45-34.
Muonelo ended Oklahoma's hopes.
The senior guard scored eight points in a two-minute span, then hit another jumper and added a pass to a cutting Matt Pilgrim for a layup that put the Cowboys up 65-47.
Oklahoma never got closer, ending a season that started with high expectations with maybe the biggest disappointment of all.
"It's never fun having a season like this," Oklahoma's Cade Davis said.