Led by Stephen Graham, 'Pokes' supporting cast shines vs. Syracuse
Posted: Wednesday December 8, 2004 2:50AM; Updated: Thursday December 9, 2004 11:49AM
You wouldn't know Stephen Graham wasn't the All-America candidate in the family, after he scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds before fouling out.
NEW YORK -- Rose and Joe Graham, standing in front of their seats at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, were sporting custom-made, orange Oklahoma State jerseys in support of their fraternal-twin sons, Joey and Stephen. The boys, both Cowboys seniors, had the tops made before the Final Four in March and gave them to their parents as gifts. On the front of both is the number 14, for Joey, and on the back, 21, for Stephen.
Stephen says his being relegated to rear-of-jersey status is a mere trifle, a product of being "10 minutes younger" than big bro Joey. But it's also symbolic of their basketball pecking order since they transferred to Stillwater together from Central Florida in 2002. Joey is a preseason Wooden Award candidate and the 'Pokes' second-leading scorer; Stephen is significantly further away from the tip of the national media's tongue as a sixth man averaging 6.6 points per game.
On Tuesday night, Ma and Pa Graham would have been well-served to do much of their cheering with their backs of their jerseys facing the court. Because the Cowboys' 74-60 win over Syracuse had little to do with stars -- Joey and guard John Lucas III -- and a lot to do with the contributions of the supporting cast, namely Stephen, senior forward Ivan McFarlin and freshman guard JamesOn Curry. Stephen and McFarlin scored 16 points apiece to match Joey, and Curry dropped in seven straight Cowboy points early in the first half to give OSU its first lead at 9-7.
Depth was the difference Tuesday in the battle of the nation's Nos. 4 and 5 teams. Eddie Sutton's squad was more complete, with seven players logging 20-plus minutes, resulting in 25 points of bench scoring compared to 'Cuse's nine. The 'Pokes overcame Lucas' worst shooting night of the season and managed to look like a Final Four team; the Orange suffered their first loss because no one other than Gerry McNamara or Josh Pace picked up the slack from star Hakim Warrick's below-average shooting effort (13 points).
"It was a special night," said Joe Graham, whose family was planning to hit the town to celebrate. "Especially for Stephen, to have an opportunity to demonstrate to not only the coaching staff but to the world what a great athlete he is. We're so thrilled that he presented himself that way tonight."
A minute and a half into the game, with the Cowboys down 5-0 and Joey having committed his first turnover, Stephen subbed in for his brother. In a span of 37 seconds, he cut the score to 5-4, crashing the offensive glass for the first bucket, a tip-in, and following it up with a slam off of a Daniel Bobik steal. Stephen and Curry, who subbed in for Bobik at 16:25, combined to score 13 of the 'Pokes' first 15 points, keeping them in the game before a heavily pro-Syracuse crowd of 10,331.
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"My main focus when I come off the bench like that is to be the spark," Stephen said. "Just like [now-graduated sixth man] Janavor Witherspoon did last year, I want to make sure we maintain the intensity in the game."
Stephen's spark came in the form of scoring and hustle -- he was the team's leading point-man and rebounder at the half -- as well as verbal encouragement. He subbed in for his brother for a second time in the first half, with 6:24 remaining and Joey's stat line reading zero points, 0-for-1 from the field and 0-for-2 from the line. Before Stephen ran out to join his team on the floor, he stopped, looked his passing brother in the eye, and said, "You're not playing hard enough!"
When Joey came back in the game, fewer than three minutes later, it was he, finally, who was energized. He responded by scoring Oklahoma State's final four points of the half, cutting the Orange's lead to one. He would go on to tally 12 more points in the second half. "We're each other's biggest critics," Stephen said. "I'm always saying something to him on the floor."
Even after Joey's wake-up call, the move Oklahoma State made to put the game away in the second half -- a 17-4 run from the 5:51 mark to the 1:45 -- came largely with him on the bench. And while the streak was kick-started by a Lucas 3-pointer -- his first bucket of the evening -- 14 of the 17 points were scored by the lesser-known McFarlin, Stephen and Terrence Crawford, the team's third-, fifth- and seventh-leading scorers, respectively.
In a deserved gesture, Stephen Graham and McFarlin were elected as the team's postgame news conference representatives. Someone sent them into the interview room early, however, and they arrived during the time that had been slotted for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. Sutton came down the hall to correct the mistake; he leaned into the doorway, and before he could see the players, said, "Hey, Joey, you guys come here. Coach Boeheim's supposed to be in here first -- nobody told us."
Such is the plight of the bit player; even on their big night at the Garden, Stephen and McFarlin's own coach didn't expect them to be the only ones in the news conference.
Strong bench contributions should continue to help Oklahoma State ascend the rankings, but every Cowboy isn't going to be a household name. The Graham family, though, can at least be happy that their younger, non-All American twin is beginning to get himself on the radar:
Down the hall, a few minutes after the press conference, Joey was making his way out of the locker room and down the hall toward the team bus. A reporter unfamiliar with the 'Pokes until tonight stopped him and said, "Are you Stephen or Joey?"