LAHAINA, Hawaii (CBS Connecticut and AP) — Oklahoma State’s relentless pressure caused havoc against lesser opponents through the first three games.
It worked just as well in the Cowboys’ first true test this season.
Jawun Evans had 35 points and five of Oklahoma State’s 18 steals, lifting the Cowboys to a 98-90 win over Connecticut Monday night in the opening round of the Maui Invitational.
“I love the fact we had 18 steals. That’s a great number,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said. “That means we’re being active and bothersome now.”
Oklahoma State (4-0) jumped on the Huskies from the opening tip, turning one steal after another into points in transition. The Cowboys hit five 3-pointers during an opening 18-3 run and finished 12 for 20 from the arc.
Jeffrey Carroll and Phil Forte had 18 points each, helping Oklahoma State move on to the second round against No. 4 North Carolina or Chaminade.
Evans also had six assists, four rebounds and one turnover.
“These two guys are awfully hard to guard and that’s a great weapon,” Underwood said of Evans and Forte.
UConn (1-3) struggled with Oklahoma State’s constant pressure, turning it over 18 times. Jalen Adams had the most trouble with the Cowboys’ defense, turning it over six times in the opening five minutes and 10 overall.
Adams finished with 34 points, six rebounds and six assists. Rodney Purvis added 20 points.
The Huskies lost sophomore forward Terry Larrier to a left leg injury in the first half.
“I just love my kids’ effort. They tried to get back in the game,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “I think we cut it to four, but it was just a little bit too late. And we just have to start off a little stronger and we’ve got to take care of the ball a little bit more.”
The Cowboys used their relentless pressure and ability to score in transition to average 107 points their first three games. Those came against lesser opponents, so Maui represented their first true test.
Oklahoma State was at its harassing best against UConn early, forcing Huskies guard Jalen Adams to turn it over six times in the opening five minutes. The Cowboys turned many of those into transition 3-pointers, hitting 5 of 8 while opening with an 18-3 run.
The Huskies held their ground for the rest of the half, though it did little good. Oklahoma State led 40-26 at halftime behind Evans’ 16 points.
UConn finally started to get a handle on Oklahoma State’s pressure and got some defensive stops, trimming the Cowboys’ lead to seven with about five minutes left.
The Huskies hit a pair of late 3-pointers, but Evans finished them off by hitting three free throws in the final 29 seconds.
“We definitely can build off of it,” Purivs said. “Our main thing is we just got to get off to a good start and take care of the basketball.”
Larrier was expected to be a big contributor this season after transferring from Virginia Commonwealth. He went down after being stripped of the ball, slapping the floor and screaming as trainers rushed out to him.
Larrier was unable to put any weight on his left leg and stopped by to offer his teammates encouragement after being helped to the locker room.
He left the arena on crutches and a heavy brace on his left leg.
“I know it’s a knee injury, but we don’t know the significance of it yet,” Ollie said.
Oklahoma State’s pressure defense withstood its first real test after beating three overmatched opponents and the Cowboys knocked down their 3s, something that will be key this season for them.
The Huskies allowed themselves to get sped up by the Cowboys while falling into a big early hole and now face the possibility of playing without Larrier for an extended period.
Oklahoma State moves on the face the winner between No. 4 North Carolina and host Chaminade in Tuesday’s second round
UConn plays the North Carolina-Chaminade loser.
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