Cowboys roll against Portland State, 81-58

Cowboys roll against Portland State, 81-58

It didn't take long to predict the outcome. Six minutes into Oklahoma State and Portland State's matchup in Gallagher-Iba Arena on Sunday, the Cowboys were up by double-digits. That same chemistry we saw in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off was on display in Stillwater, and OSU earned its fifth straight victory of the season, defeating the Vikings 81-58.

It's sometimes hard to learn much from a blowout victory. But there's one thing that can't be determined by an opposing team's performance – free throw shooting. On Sunday, as they have all season, the Cowboys were phenomenal from the free throw line.

They entered the game leading the Big 12 from the line, shooting more than 79 percent. Against Portland, they made 10-of-13 free throws. Two players were perfect from the line (Phil Forte 3-3 and Kamari Murphy 2-2). So, what's been the secret to Cowboys' early season success from the line?

"The coach teaching them how to shoot," head coach Travis Ford laughed. "No, that's not the case."

Of course, it's much more than that. The statistics from Sunday might be a bit skewed – OSU attempted only 13 foul shots – because they had so many open lanes to the basket against a spread-out Vikings defense. Junior forward Markel Brown scored a game-high 23 points, without attempting a free throw.

But he said the extra emphasis on free throw shooting in practice has helped.

"I think everyone is locked in," Brown said. "And after practice, we work on free throws a lot. After every practice, coach splits us up and we shoot free throws. I think it's helped a lot because we've got guys that can score the ball a lot and get to the rim, and get fouled. So we have to make those."

This season, we've already seen the intangibles that have led to early success. Said Ford, "Chemistry has been good, guys have just figured it out." Brown said they use the term "brotherhood." Free throw shooting isn't often lumped in with that category of chemistry, but it fits with a sometimes uncoachable identity of a team.

There are plenty of NBA players who have practiced free throw shooting their entire lives who still struggle at the charity stripe.

"You have good free throw shooting teams and you have bad free throw shooting teams – we have some guys who can make free throws," Ford said. "I've had other teams that didn't shoot very well at all from the free throw line. Maybe it's because your center is shooting the ball all the time.

"There's no secret recipe to being a great free throw shooting team. We practice them, we put them in situations – we do all that like everybody does. But we've got guys shooting free throws that can make them. That's true of any team."

With their abilities to make free throw shots, the game plan moving forward is to attempt as many as possible.

"One thing we didn't do today is that we didn't get to the free throw line near enough," Ford said. "We want to get to the free throw line. One of our keys in Puerto Rico was we got to the free throw line 20 or more times a game. We were making 80 percent of them. The more times we can get to the free throw line, the better off we are."

The Cowboys (5-0) return to action Saturday, when they travel to face Virginia Tech (5-0) at 3 p.m.

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