"Byron is fouled much more than he fouls," Sutton says. "He's on everybody's hit list. He's still, quite honestly, living down his reputation to a degree. In the past he's probably done some things that were dirty. But I've tried to teach him to channel his energy in a positive manner."
Houston maintained his composure in the Cowboys' Feb. 19 win at Kansas State when most players might have exploded. He was slugged from behind by Wildcat forward Wilie Howard, who had taken an elbow from Houston as the two players jostled in the paint. Houston then cocked his right arm but backed away. After viewing a replay of the incident on an ESPN monitor, officials called an intentional foul on Houston. Howard, however, was tagged with a flagrant foul and ejected.
Another incident was foremost in everybody's mind before Saturday's game in Ames. It occurred during the Cowboys' 83-62 win over Iowa State in Stillwater on Feb. 6, when Houston and the Cyclones' Paul Doerrfeld collided in a rebound battle. Doerrfeld hit the floor and was out cold for several seconds. Sutton later said taped replays showed that Doerrfeld was hit by one of Houston's massive shoulders, not an elbow, and that he lost consciousness because he hit his head on the floor. Iowa State coach Johnny Orr wasn't convinced, as he showed on Feb. 25 during a telephone press conference.
"[Houston] knocked Doerrfeld out of the game," said Orr. "If that happens here, you're going to see the darndest riot you ever saw in college basketball."
Fortunately, Orr's remarks seemed forgotten during Saturday's game. Houston had a typical effort: a game-high 24 points to go with nine rebounds, six assists, one blocked shot and two steals. The Cowboys led by as many as 14 points in the first half but allowed the Cyclones to creep back to 63-57 with 3:33 to play. Then, amazingly, the home team went on an 11-0 run that put the Cowboys into shock.
"We got rattled late in the game," said Sutton. "Down the stretch, we were watching the clock. We were trying to keep from losing instead of trying to win. This was a tough loss, but we still have a lot we can accomplish."
The Oklahoma State pep band often celebrates victories by serenading the visitors with the old Roy Rogers theme, Happy Trails. This week the trails all lead to Kansas City, where the Cowboys will be eager to show everyone, particularly Kansas, that championship-caliber basketball has finally returned to Stillwater.