Freshman Phil Forte led the way with a career-high 22 points as the Cowboys improved their home record to 61-9 in Travis Ford’s five seasons as head coach. Four other players scored in double figures – Kamari Murphy (12 points), Markel Brown (11), Marcus Smart (11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks) and Kirby Gardner (10 points, 7 assists and 5 steals, all career bests) – as the Cowboys won for the 180th time in the last 184 home nonconference games dating back to 1987.
But few of those 184 games were as tough as what they will face in nine days.
After winning five consecutive home games in the December by an average of 24.2 points over Tennessee Tech, Texas-Arlington, Central Arkansas, Missouri State and South Florida, the Cowboys will host Gonzaga on Dec. 31. The Zags will definitely challenge Ford’s team more than any of the previous visitors to Gallagher-Iba this season.
OSU’s 10-1 record is its best since opening the 2009-10 season with 11 victories in the first 12 games. The Cowboys will now take a nine-day break before hosting Gonzaga at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31 in a nationally televised game (ESPN2).
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few’s team has won 20 or more games in each of his 12 seasons in leading the program, and the Zags 13 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament is tied for fourth among current active streaks behind Kansas, Duke and Michigan State. The Zags have advanced to the Sweet 16 in four of Few’s 12 seasons as head coach.
“They’re extremely talented. Everybody knows Gonzaga’s tradition, and they are saying this might be their best team,” Ford said during his post-game radio interview following Saturday’s victory.
“They’re big, they’re physical. They’ve got guards. They’ve got depth. They’ve got a little bit of everything. We’re going to need this place packed and we’re going to need all the support we can get,” added Ford.
The Cowboys have been outstanding defensively through their first 11 games, five times holding their opponents below 50 points – which is the first time an OSU team has done that since 1962-63.
Gonzaga, however, has the nation’s 14th-best scoring team, averaging 81.4 points per game, including scoring 104 against Lewis-Clark State College and 96 against South Dakota.
“It’s going to be a battle between two of the top-25 teams in the country,” said Ford.