By Nathan Ruiz
STILLWATER (TNS) — Oklahoma State senior Jeffrey Carroll and his teammates watched the NCAA Tournament selection show in their locker room Sunday, believing they had done enough. When Oklahoma was revealed as a tournament team in the alphabetical unveiling, the room got tense. The Cowboys were either next, or they were out.
Carroll, knowing of the debate enshrouding the Bedlam rivals, had an ill feeling when he saw the Sooners received an at-large bid. As Providence appeared on the Cowboys’ screen, his fears were confirmed. The Cowboys were not among the 68 teams to make the NCAA Tournament.
“My stomach just kind of dropped,” Carroll said. “I honestly couldn’t believe it. I thought we’d done enough to make it, but we just came up short.”
OSU, at 19-14 and 8-10 in the Big 12, will instead be a No. 2 seed in the NIT facing Florida Gulf Coast at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Gallagher-Iba Arena. Not listed among the first four out, the Cowboys were further from the tournament picture than they envisioned.
That surprised Mike Boynton, who in his first year as not only the Cowboys’ coach but as a head coach led OSU to a regular-season sweep of Kansas, plus victories against ranked opponents Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Florida State.
“I don’t think that anybody that was on that line, that got in or that didn’t get in, has a better collection of wins than we do,” Boynton said. “I’d be hard-pressed to see a team that has — someone may have one win better somewhere in there, but as a group of wins, I don’t know.”
But a conference slate considered the fourth toughest in the nation could not overcome a nonconference schedule featuring eight teams with an RPI above 200 and four surpassing 300. OSU’s RPI, at 90, would’ve been the highest ever for an at-large team.
Committee chair Bruce Rasmussen cited OSU’s nonconference opponents and the Cowboys’ 5-12 record against Quadrant 1 opponents as the reasons behind their exclusion.
“We just didn’t feel that Oklahoma State had quite the schedule that we would have liked to have seen,” Rasmussen said.
After the Cowboys learned they weren’t in, they sat in silence. A mix of anger and sadness swirled around the locker room.
“When you play and put that much passion into something and it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to,” senior Mitchell Solomon said, “you feel a lot of emotions.”
Boynton addressed his team, telling them there’s still plenty to play for. The Cowboys, playing in their first NIT since 2011, can prove a point.
“Every time we have a chance to play, we’ve got a statement to make,” Boynton said, “because we have an opportunity to represent this program and to represent this university and all the people who believe in us.”
Should the Cowboys advance to the NIT semifinals, they would play in New York City. But Boynton, a Brooklyn native, said the tournament’s first game is the most difficult, with teams forced to overcome disappointment.
OSU will try to do that after missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons.
“I thought we played a good year with the team that we had and put together a good resume,” Solomon said, “but it wasn’t good enough.”