It was like the opening act, setting the big stage for the main performers, and the relatively sparse crowd at the Sprint Center in Kansas City at the first-round games of the 2012 Big 12 Men's Basketball Championship reflected the lower position in the standings of the combatants as well as their non-local nature.
Because of the Big 12's 10-team structure this year, the top six teams in the conference standings were awarded first-round byes, leaving the teams seeded six through ten in the final standings to open the tournament with a so-called play-in game on Wednesday, essentially for the right to match up in Thursday's quarterfinal round against the top two seeds in the tournament, which this year are Kansas and Missouri.
That dubious reward goes to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. The Aggies, the No. 9 seed, pulled away from Oklahoma in the second half and knocked off the higher-seeded Sooners (the No. 8 seed) 62-53. Oklahoma State parlayed a balanced scoring attack into a 16-point win over 10th-seeded Texas Tech. Four Cowboy starters scored in double figures, led by senior point guard Keiton Page with a game-high 20 points, as Oklahoma State, the six seed in the tournament, eventually wore down the Red Red Raiders for a 76-60 victory.
Oklahoma State carved out a five point lead at halftime, but Texas Tech came out on fire to start the second half, outscoring the Cowboys 9-3 in the first three minutes after intermission to take a one-point lead at 36-35. It was Texas Tech's first lead in the game.
From that point, OSU went on an electifying 15-0 run to retake the lead and run it out to a 14-point advantage. The Cowboys, now 15-7 overall and 8-11 in the Big 12, will live to play another day. No. 2 seed Missouri (27-4, 14-4) will be Oklahoma State's opponent in Thursday's second round. The two teams split their two games during the season, with the Cowboys upsetting the Tigers by seven in Stillwater and Mizzou running up an 18-point win over OSU in the rematch in Columbia.
The victory Wednesday over Texas Tech (8-23, 1-18) was Oklahoma State's ninth first-round victory in the postseason Big 12 Tournament without a loss.
In the opening game of the tournament, senior Texas A&M forwards Khris Middleton and David Loubeau combined for a team-high 15 points apiece, and guard Elston Turner chipped in 14, in the Aggies' victory over Oklahoma. The Aggies never trailed in the second half after mounting a 27-22 halftime advantage. Loubeau also grabbed a season-high nine rebounds. OU had beaten A&M 65-62 last Saturday in the regular-season finale inb Norman.
A&M's halftime lead was the first time the Aggies had led a game at the half since Feb. 6 vs. Texas. This game was one of the rare times all season that the Aggies have had all of their leaders healthy and on the court at the same time.
The score was tied with a little over nine minutes to go in the game, but that was as close as the Sooners were able to get as Texas A&M took advantage of Oklahoma's poor shooting. The Sooners were held to 39 percent shooting from the field, one of the Aggies' best defensive games of the year, according to their coach Billy Kennedy. Texas A&M made 15 of 17 free throw sttempts, which ended up being an important factor in the outcome.
Junior forward Romero Osby led the Sooners in scoring with 17 points, nine of which came from the free throw line. Oklahoma shot an abysmal 18 percent from three-point range, going two for 11. The Sooners' 22 first-half points tied their lowest total of the season.
Oklahoma finishes the season with a sub-.500 15-16 record and 5-14 against Big 12 opponents. Texas A&M, meanwhile, moves on to play No. 1 seed Kansas in the second afternoon game on Thursday. The Aggies lost both of their regular-season encounters with the Jayhawks, falling 64-54 in Lawrence and by eight points, 66-58, two weeks ago in College Station.
As if it's not going to be a difficult enough task for the ninth-seeded Aggies, Kansas is 31-7 all-time in the Big 12 Basketball Championship and has won the tournament five of the past six seasons, including the last two. Baylor or Kansas State will lie in wait for the winner of Thursday's game between Kansas and Texas A&M.
A&M's Kennedy had this to say in his postgame press breifing Wednesday about having to play Kansas in the next round: "Kansas is so good, other guys (other than Thomas Robinson) are capable of beating you," Kennedy said. "We have to hope they miss from the three-point line, because they're so good in the post. Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey together is probably one of the best post tandems in the country. So we gotta be inside out and hope they miss perimeter jump shots and we give them one shot."
Texas A&M is now 6-15 all-time in the Big 12 Championship and 2-10 in first-round action. Oklahoma's record in Big 12 Tournament play dropped to 20-13. The Sooners are 4-2 in first-round games.