NEW YORK -- Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, while watching tape of Oklahoma State in preparation for their encounter at the Jimmy V Classic, said to himself, "we might not even be able to play with this team."
He was wrong for the first 33 minutes of Tuesday night's game at Madison Square Garden, but Boeheim proved to be prophetic as a two-point lead faded fast when the Cowboys' seniors took over in the final seven minutes.
This doesn't happen in today's era of college basketball. Seniors don't dominate teams unless we're talking about mid-majors. Sure, Kansas can put four seniors on the court, but the Jayhawks don't showcase six in their starting rotation like their Big 12 brethren.
Oklahoma State, en route to a 74-60 victory, ran past Syracuse with a 17-4 run using only seniors.
Think about that for a second. Only seniors were on the court for Oklahoma State. Don't you think that's a huge advantage?
"It's all about maturity and we didn't get antsy or out of character,'' said Oklahoma State point guard John Lucas. "We never feel like we're out of a game.''
Oklahoma State was supposed to be a Final Four contender after getting there a year ago. The Cowboys lost one key player, Big 12 player of the year guard Tony Allen. But for whatever reason, the Cowboys weren't discussed earlier in the season as a lock to be in St. Louis. If the win over Syracuse is any indication then the Cowboys have just as good a shot to get back.
Senior Daniel Bobik buried a 3-pointer in the far corner to give Cowboys a one-point lead to start the run. Lucas then made his first shot of the game, a 3-pointer, to push the Cowboys up 48-45. They wouldn't lose the lead again.
"It's rare [to have that many seniors on the court]," Boeheim said. "That's the strength of their team. Trying to guard them man-to-man would be tough because they're all seniors, they all can handle the ball and they all can pass.''
The Cowboys struggled early against the vaunted Syracuse zone and trailed 22-21 at halftime.
The second half was a different story.
McFarlin scored all of his 16 points and grabbed seven of his 12 boards after halftime.
"Our seniors have the experience of going to the Final Four,'' Sutton said. "But not all of the seniors have been playing as well.''
Lucas had one of those nights when he couldn't find the rim. He ended up going 2-for-11 but still hit the biggest shot of the game. Remember it was in the New York-New Jersey area last March that Lucas hit the game-winning shot to send the Cowboys to an Elite Eight win over Saint Joseph's at the Meadowlands.
"John is good for one 3-pointer every now and then,'' McFarlin said. "He hit it at the right time. You couldn't ask for a better shot.''
The patience the Cowboys showed against the Orange zone was in large part due to their experience. Like Lucas said, the Cowboys weren't rattled one bit.
"We never feel like we're out of the game,'' Lucas said. "We just had better ball movement in the second half, and Ivan did a great job of getting to the glass.''
The players felt like they had to make a statement nationally against Syracuse. Oklahoma State has a tough upcoming slate with games against UAB, at UNLV and against Gonzaga this month. Sure, the Cowboys were ranked five to Syracuse's four but that didn't matter. The Cowboys still felt like this was more of a road game and never feel totally respected nationally.
"This ought to give us some momentum,'' Sutton said.
The mo' will likely remain as the Cowboys march toward the Big 12 and likely showdowns against Kansas and Texas.
If you think seniors help in December, just wait until the Cowboys get to March.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.