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McFarlin Helps Cowboys Up

Senior Forward Lifts Oklahoma State Into Another Round of 16: Oklahoma State 85, Southern Illinois 77

By Thayer Evans
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 21, 2005; Page D09

OKLAHOMA CITY, March 20 -- The infectious, toothy grin of Ivan McFarlin escaped with 44 seconds left.

Having just punctuated No. 2 seed Oklahoma State's comeback 85-77 victory over No. 7 seed Southern Illinois on Sunday with a two-handed dunk, the fifth-year senior had a career-high 31 points and was bursting with excitement before a frenzied crowd of 18,567 at Ford Center.

Oklahoma State's Ivan McFarlin heads to the basket, splitting the defense of Southern Illinois's Matt Shaw, left, and Randal Walker as the fifth-year senior forward scored a career-high 31 points. (Jeff Mitchell -- Reuters)

"The last time I scored that many I was a senior in high school," said McFarlin, whose previous collegiate best was 27. "It's been a long time coming."

McFarlin's performance was of little surprise to his Cowboys teammates.

"He's always happy," said freshman guard JamesOn Curry, McFarlin's roommate. But "when he smiles, you know the [opponent] is in trouble."

The victory moved Oklahoma State (26-6) to its second straight round of 16, where it will play No. 3 seed Arizona in the Chicago Region on Thursday.

McFarlin has "played some super games since he's been at Oklahoma State," Cowboys Coach Eddie Sutton said, "but I'm not sure that's not the best game I've ever seen him play."

Early on, however, the Cowboys' guards had their problems with the man-to-man defense of the Salukis (27-8).

Southern Illinois surged to an 8-2 lead in the first two minutes on two three-pointers by Jamaal Tatum and a layup by Darren Brooks.

The teams then exchanged leads on several occasions before Oklahoma State went ahead by six points with 8 minutes 57 seconds left in the first half.

The Salukis, however, stormed back with a 7-0 run to go up one and then used a 14-6 spurt to take a 46-39 halftime lead.

With senior forward Joey Graham playing passively for a second straight game, McFarlin -- fondly known as "I-Mac" by teammates -- kept Oklahoma State afloat in the first half, scoring 17 points.

The Missouri City, Tex., native finished the game 10 of 13 from the field and 11 of 12 from the free throw line. He also had six rebounds and three steals in 36 minutes.

"He just dominated us physically," Southern Illinois Coach Chris Lowery said. "It was all toughness."

Oklahoma State ran off 12 straight points to open the second half. Six of those came on three-pointers by Curry, who finished with 18 points, all but two of which came in the second half.

"I just tried to be more aggressive," Curry said. "I was looking to dish too much in the first half, and it got me in trouble a few times."

Nonetheless, Southern Illinois battled back to take a 52-51 advantage on a free throw by Brooks with 14:21 left, its last lead of the game. An 8-0 run later put the Cowboys up 11.

"They're not a mid-major team," Sutton said. Southern Illinois "could play in the Big 12 or any major conference."

Tatum, a sophomore guard, was brilliant in defeat for the Salukis, scoring 22 points in 26 minutes, but was saddled by foul trouble. Brooks, the reigning Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, had 17 points in his last collegiate game.

"I told [Brooks] after the game he was good enough to play in the NBA," Sutton said. "I admire how hard he plays. He hustles and is a great rebounder for a guard. I wish we would have recruited him."

Coming off a seven-point, four-turnover performance in Oklahoma State's opening-round win over Southeastern Louisiana, Graham again disappointed the Cowboys.

The senior forward, who entered the game averaging 17.8 points, scored just eight and had six assists as well as four turnovers in 22 minutes.

"We can't win against Arizona or Illinois with Joey playing like he has this weekend," Sutton said. "He's got to do more."

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