LAS VEGAS — Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte wasn’t hitting his shots Monday night, but his team’s defense stepped up in the second half and saved him.
The Cowboys struggled occasionally on offense, but they forced 17 turnovers and held Oregon State to 33-percent shooting to score a 66-53 victory in the opening game of the MGM Grand Main Event.
Oklahoma State will face the winner of the second game between Auburn and Tulsa in Wednesday night’s championship game.
Forte, who started the night averaging 18 points a game, made just one of his first five shots but scored 13 points in the second half to finish with 17.
“There’s going to be nights when our shots aren’t falling, especially for me,” Forte said. “This was one of those nights when I couldn’t hit much from the outside, but defense will always be there. You can always rely on that.”
Forte’s steal and drive with 5:03 left in regulation gave the Cowboys a double-digit lead, 55-45, and they coasted to the finish.
Le’Bryan Nash led Oklahoma State with 19 points, although he was plagued by foul trouble in the second half. Jeffrey Carroll added 13, and Anthony Hickey had 12.
Forward Victor Robbins led the Beavers (3-1) with 16 points. Langston Morris-Walker had 13.
Oregon State had difficulty with the Cowboys’ defense, making a series of turnovers that slowed their hopes of a comeback. They got as close as six points, 51-45, in the second half, but Oklahoma State went on a 13-2 run to pull away.
“We were out-rebounding them at half,” Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle said. “We accepted that challenge and met it well. But I don’t like the casualness against pressure - the lackadaisical three-on-ones where we throw a bounce pass at a guy’s ankle.”
The Cowboyss were led by Le’Bryan Nash, who had 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting. They converted 11 of 21 field-goal attempts in the second half and were 48.8 percent for the game (21 of 43).
“This game could’ve gone either way, but I thought our defensive intensity in the second half was the difference,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “Our best shooter wasn’t on tonight. I’m glad we figured out other ways to win than just scoring.”
Oregon State: Former NBA great Gary Payton sat courtside across from the Beavers bench to watch his son, Gary Payton II, a starter at guard after transferring from Salt Lake Community College. The elder Payton was a consensus All-American at Oregon State. Payton II, who attended Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas, scored 10 points and had six rebounds.
Oklahoma State: A step up in competition obviously had an impact on the Cowboys. They hadn’t scored fewer than 74 points in any of their first four games and totaled 91 in a win over Northwest Oklahoma State, but they had just 30 in the first half Monday and finished with 66.
Forte may have been slow to find his shot, but he made a key steal and layup in the second half that gave Oklahoma State its first double-digit lead, 55-45. The Cowboys them pulled ahead to lead by 17.
The two teams aren’t exactly heated rivals, but when they play, Oregon State has traditionally had the best of things - at least until Monday. The Beavers had a 5-1 edge in head-to-head meetings with Oklahoma State, who hadn’t beaten Oregon State since a 55-30 win in the NCAA national semifinals in 1949.
Oregon State plays either Auburn or Tulsa in the Main Event consolation game Wednesday night.
Oklahoma State will face the winner of the Auburn-Tulsa game for the title.
OKLAHOMA ST. 66, OREGON ST. 53
OREGON ST. (3-1) — Payton II 4-7 0-0 10, N’diaye 1-2 0-0 2, Duvivier 0-4 1-2 1, Morris-Walker 3-10 5-6 13, Schaftenaar 3-7 1-1 8, Robbins 3-8 9-12 16, Gomis 0-0 3-6 3, Reid 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 14-42 19-27 53.
OKLAHOMA ST. (5-0) — Nash 6-10 7-9 19, Hickey Jr. 4-9 2-5 12, Forte III 4-11 7-10 17, Cobbins 1-2 1-3 3, Carroll 5-7 0-0 13, Griffin 0-2 0-0 0, Burton 0-0 0-0 0, Shine 1-2 0-0 2, Soucek 0-0 0-0 0, Newberry 0-0 0-0 0, Allen Jr. 0-0 0-0 0, Solomon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-43 17-27 66.
Halftime—Oklahoma St. 30-24. 3-Point Goals—Oregon St. 6-17 (Payton II 2-4, Morris-Walker 2-5, Robbins 1-3, Schaftenaar 1-4, Duvivier 0-1), Oklahoma St. 7-21 (Carroll 3-5, Hickey Jr. 2-4, Forte III 2-9, Nash 0-1, Griffin 0-1, Shine 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Oregon St. 29 (Payton II, Robbins 6), Oklahoma St. 30 (Carroll 7). Assists—Oregon St. 8 (Duvivier 3), Oklahoma St. 6 (Forte III 2). Total Fouls—Oregon St. 22, Oklahoma St. 21. A—NA.