By Jimmy Gillispie

CNHI News Service

In front of their largest home crowd of the season, Phil Forte and Anthony Hickey sparked a second-half rally to lead the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team to a 61-47 win over Kansas State in its Big 12 Conference opener.

Forte continued to hit from the outside while Hickey used his defensive pressure and distribution skills to help the Cowboys comeback from a first-half deficit during the opening minutes of the second half. Both players scored in double figures as the Cowboys (11-2) began the conference season with a win in front of 11,185 people Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

“I thought the defensive intensity in the second half really created some points for us,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “Anthony Hickey really changed the game. He gave us a lot of momentum with his defense leading to easy shots for us. I liked the job we did on Thomas Gipson in the second half. I thought (Michael) Cobbins did a great job of stepping up. ... We’ve just got to start playing better for 40 minutes instead of just in halves, but we’re glad to get the win.”

Forte, an OSU senior, led all players with 20 points – shooting 3 of 7 from 3-point range and 5 of 6 from 2-point range – as four OSU players scored in double figures. Senior Le’Bryan Nash scored only three points in the second half but finished with 11 for the game.

Junior Jeff Newberry, who earned his second-straight start of the season, chipped in 10 points, along with Hickey. Both players scored all 10 of their points in the second half as only Forte, Nash and freshman Tavarius Shine scored for OSU in the first half.

“Coming in from junior college, he was known as a scorer, a guy that can put up points,” Forte said of Newberry. “He came in here and wants to do what's best for the team, whether it's guarding their best player or knocking down open shots. ... We really need him to keep this up because it has really helped out our team, especially getting into conference play.”

It was Hickey who sparked the rally for the Cowboys. They trailed 33-29 two minutes into the second half before Hickey drained a 3-pointer, sank a jump shot and converted a steal into an open layup. His points all came during a 49-second stretch as OSU grabbed a 36-35 lead it never relinquished.

“When Anthony Hickey is locked in on defense and that’s all he cares about, he makes shots,” Ford said. “It’s amazing how that works. That’s what happened to him in the second half.”

Seconds after Hickey’s 7-0 run, Newberry also stole the ball from Kansas State’s Nigel Johnson. Newberry was fouled hard on the layup as KSU’s Justin Edwards was called for a flagrant-and-one foul. Newberry sunk both foul shots.

Less than two minutes later, Forte scored on a layup and a 3-pointer. The long-range shot came after a Hickey stole the ball from KSU’s Thomas Gipson, passed to Newberry on the wing and Newberry swung it to Forte in the corner. The 3-point bomb gave OSU a 45-35 lead and forced the Wildcats to call a timeout.

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber had high praise for Forte after the game.

“He’s just a tough, little, feisty bugger,” Weber said. “He competes and fights every play, whether he makes baskets or not. If you’re an Oklahoma State fan, you’ve got to love a kid like that. He will take some bad shots and do some crazy things, but you got to love how hard he competes and loves to play. This kid has been a winner his whole life.”

While he was impressed by the Cowboys’ star guard, Weber wasn’t happy once again with his star guard – sophomore Marcus Foster – who didn’t start Saturday’s game. Foster was held scoreless during his 14 minutes of action on 0 of 4 shooting.

“He’s hit a little bit of a non-confident period,” Weber said. “The thing we’re just asking him is it’s not about points – and we need his points obviously because we don’t have many guys that can go get baskets for us - he’s also got to compete and play hard every day. That’s the biggest thing.”

Gipson led the Wildcats with 14 points, but scored only four in the second half. Edwards also chipped in double figures with 11.

Kansas State led 29-27 at halftime as the Cowboys went 6:01 without scoring a point after taking a 23-17 lead. The Cowboys broke the 17-17 tie with a pair of threes from Forte. The first came at the shot clock buzzer.

Forte was dribbling the ball on the wing when he saw the shot clock winding down. He fired a sideways shot toward the rim and the ball swished through the net, erupting the home crowd. A minute later, he hit an open 3-pointer to build the lead to six points.

“It is important, obviously you want to defend your home court,” Forte said of winning the conference opener. “Last game against Maryland, we had a good crowd, and we felt disappointed that we let the fans down. This time we wanted to come in here and protect our home court. We had a good crowd here today, and we wanted to win for them.”

OSU will next play at Iowa State Tuesday, while the Wildcats will host TCU Wednesday for their next Big 12 games.

Jimmy Gillispie is a sports reporter for the Stillwater News Press