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While Houston supplied the muscle that the Cowboys needed to win, senior guard Scan Sutton, the coach's son, provided most of the guile. Physically, the 6'1", 185-pound Sutton is Houston's opposite, and he plays with a scurrying, almost sneaky style that belies his toughness. After Georgia Tech cut an 18-point Oklahoma State lead to four in the second half of the final, it was a driving three-point play by Sutton that helped the Cowboys hold on down the stretch. "Sean brings us stability," says Houston. "Even in pickup games over the summer, he would settle his team down, get it under control. He seems to do what Coach Sutton wants even before Coach can ask. It must be one of those father-son things."
The younger Sutton is representative of Houston's supporting cast at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys may not be aesthetically pleasing, especially in those hideous black hightop sneakers that are spreading through basketball like a fungus—probably the worst fashion trend since the advent of culottes—but the team has a way of keeping opponents from finding their rhythm. Houston's banging inside, along with the perimeter defense of guards Sutton and Darwyn Alexander and forward Cornell Hatcher, helped turn both of Oklahoma State's victories into disjointed affairs. "They just have a way of making you look bad," says Cremins.
It was something of a surprise that the Cowboys were so effective against Georgia Tech, because the Yellow Jackets had looked so smooth in their 120-107 semifinal win over Texas. The Longhorns, who have a quick, talented pair of guards in Rencher and sophomore B.J. Tyler, are fast but small, and they didn't have the inside strength or height to handle Tech's Geiger (25 points) and 6'11" forward Malcolm Mackey (28 points).
Texas will be even more undersized if their leading scorer, 6'8" senior forward Dexter Cambridge, who scored 23 points against Georgia Tech and manhandled Pitt for 24 points and 18 rebounds in a 91-87 loss to the Panthers in the consolation game, loses his eligibility. In early November, Cambridge was declared ineligible by the university while the NCAA investigated the possibility that he had accepted money from a booster two years ago while attending Lon Morris Junior College in Jacksonville, Texas. (Morris and Texas deny any connection to the booster, and Cambridge has said he committed no violation.) On Nov. 20, Cambridge obtained a temporary restraining order from a district court judge that allowed him to play until Dec. 3. Cambridge's status after that date is uncertain.
If the Longhorns lose Cambridge, Penders can turn to his pal Cremins for advice on adjusting to life without a star. Last year Cremins prepared for the loss of Anderson to the NBA after his sophomore season by recruiting Best, a 5'11" dervish from basketball's birthplace who scored 81 points in a game as a high school senior. There's no question that the Yellow Jackets haven't yet seen the best of Best. He played in the early rounds of the tournament with his left hand wrapped because of floor burns, and he was nearly forced to miss the trip to New York when he became ill with the flu, strep throat and a 102° fever.
Cremins rested Best as much as he could against Texas, but when the Longhorns made one last run down the stretch, Cremins turned to Best and said, "We can't win without you." Best reentered the game and hit two three-pointers to help the Yellow Jackets hang on.
Things didn't turn out as well against Oklahoma State. Best had his moments, dealing out nine assists and hitting three of four treys, but overall, Sutton and the rest of the Cowboy backcourt got the better of Best and Barry, who shot a combined 8 for 22 from the floor. The early line on Best remains that he is not as dynamic as Anderson; where Anderson was cocky and self-assured, Best is unassuming and eager to please. "The biggest difference between them is that Travis listens to me a little better than Kenny did," Cremins says. "Kenny would say, 'Yeah, Coach. Yeah, Coach,' and then do his own thing. Travis tries to stick to my instructions a little more. Right now he's a little tentative, but once he feels comfortable with the system, you'll see Travis Best start to do his thing."
Cremins tries to avoid mentioning Anderson's name when he talks about Best, though Best doesn't seem to mind the comparisons. "If I didn't want to answer questions about that, I wouldn't have come to Georgia Tech," Best says. "Besides, Kenny's been a big help to me. He told me that college players would be bigger and stronger than the ones I was used to playing against. He must have been talking about Byron Houston."
Houston was the dominant figure at the NIT, but the Suttons were perhaps the most gratified. Oklahoma State won the trophy, which Kentucky was expected to win, and that was no small irony. In 1989 Sutton the coach resigned in disgrace from Kentucky after a scandal involving player payments and accusations of academic fraud landed the Wildcats on three-year NCAA probation, and Sutton the player transferred in the wake of his father's move. But if the Suttons were gloating last week, they kept it to themselves. "I'm just disappointed Kentucky didn't get to New York," Sean said. "I still have a lot of friends there, and it would have been fun to play the Wildcats."
There's always the chance that Sean will run into his Kentucky buddies in that tournament at the end of the season. Penders was only partially right when he said the four teams in New York were all "good clubs that are capable of reaching the NCAA tournament." Oklahoma State might be capable of doing more than that. Far more.