OKLAHOMA CITY (Ticker) -- Southeastern Louisiana made quite a first impression. Ivan McFarlin is used to making an impression in the NCAA Tournament.
McFarlin scored 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds to lead second-seeded Oklahoma State to a hard-fought 63-50 victory over the 15th-seeded Lions in the first round of the Chicago Region.
The 6-8 senior averaged nearly 13 points and 10 rebounds in his previous eight NCAA Tournament games for the Cowboys (25-6), who will play the winner of the game between Southern Illinois and Saint Mary's in the second round on Sunday.
"I just wanted to stay aggressive," McFarlin said. "This is the last go round for the seniors. We're going to try hard to get to St. Louis (site of the Final Four)."
Returning all but one starter from last year's Final Four team, Oklahoma State was expected to roll past Southeastern Louisiana (24-9), which won the Southland Conference tournament to earn its first NCAA bid.
But the Lions did not experience stage fright despite having to play the Big 12 tournament champion in what was essentially a "road" game at the Ford Center.
With the nation's fourth-best defense at 55.6 points per game, Southeastern Louisiana forced the Cowboys to play a slow-paced, halfcourt game and trailed by just three points with seven minutes left.
"I'm proud of the way we controlled the tempo," Lions coach Billy Kennedy said. "We kept the game in the 50s, but Oklahoma State never panicked. That's a sign of great coaching."
After Jonathan Walker made a pair of free throws to pull the Lions within 44-41, McFarlin cut to the basket for a layup and freshman JamesOn Curry, who finished with 13 points, made 1-of-2 free throws for Oklahoma State with 6:18 left.
Ricky Woods converted a layup for Southeastern Louisiana with 6:03 remaining, but McFarlin again bulled inside for a basket, giving the Cowboys a 49-43 advantage with 5:16 left.
A dunk by Terrence Crawford, a 3-pointer by Curry and a pair of free throws by John Lucas increased the lead to 56-47 with 3:02 remaining. Lucas finished with 12 points.
Southeastern Louisiana made just one basket the rest of the way and Daniel Bobik converted 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
"Cowboys survive," Bobik said. "That's your headline."
It was the 780th career win for Eddie Sutton, who passed Lou Henson and moved into sixth-place on the all-time list. He has 350 of those wins at Oklahoma State.
"This one could have easily been a loss," Sutton said. "Give Southeastern Louisiana a lot of credit. They play tough defense and forced us to fight for our lives."
Woods scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half and Jonathan Patton added 15 for Southeastern Louisiana.
The Lions were especially hurt by the absence of center Nate Lofton, who picked up three fouls in the first seven minutes and missed the remainder of the first half.
Without Lofton to contend with, McFarlin scored 12 of his points in the first half when Oklahoma State built a 35-26 lead.
"He (McFarlin) was huge for us in the first half and made some plays late as well," Sutton said. "We really needed his presence inside."
The Cowboys raced to a 21-9 lead in the first nine minutes, making 8-of-11 shots from the field. But Southeastern Louisiana succeeded in slowing down the tempo and pulled within 30-24 on a basket by Patton with 3:58 left in the half.