STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — After coming off the bench for his first six outings this season, Jeffrey Carroll moved into the starting lineup and has responded with three straight outstanding performances.
Carroll scored 22 points and Kendall Smith had 18 points and four assists as Oklahoma State rolled to a 102-83 victory over UT-Rio Grande Valley on Friday.
Mitchell Solomon added 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds and the Cowboys (10-2) won their third-straight with a season-high offensive output. It was the final non-conference contest before OSU starts its Big 12 Conference schedule next week.
"Not our best performance by any stretch, but it was good enough to win," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton.
Carroll, who missed the first three games of the season due to an NCAA investigation, now has three 20-point games this year, two of them since joining the starting lineup. The other game featured his first double-double of the year.
"I think he feels better and so any time you get arguably your best player feeling good about what's going on, it gives you the best chance to have success," Boynton said. "He didn't make a big deal about it all, it was me reflecting, thinking, 'How do I put this team in position to play better?' And the team has not blinked."
Xavier McDaniel Jr. scored 17 points and Nick Dixon had 14 for UT-Rio Grande Valley (6-8).
After Mike Hoffman sank a 3-pointer with 11:28 left in the opening half, UT-Rio Grande Valley led 16-15, but Oklahoma State responded with a game-changing run to take control. The Cowboys reeled off a 21-4 run over the next seven minutes, and took a 53-34 lead into halftime. Oklahoma State also forced 13 first-half turnovers, outscoring the Vaqueros 22-3 off of turnovers, as it amassed a season-high 53 first-half points.
"I thought our guys competed, but we had that stretch where they pressured us and our guys started throwing the ball around," said UTRGV coach Lew Hill. "And they're a very good team in transition, so they turned the turnovers into baskets. When you're playing a team like this, you can't give them 8-0 or 10-0 runs, because then the game is over."
Oklahoma State went on to score the first seven points of the second half, and built up an advantage of as much as 29, holding at least a 19-point edge the rest of the way.
"I'm proud of our guys for waking up," Boynton said of that first-half stretch. "They really did a good job of picking up our energy and effort defensively, which led us to be able to put on a run and kind of put them away early."
UT-Rio Grande Valley: The Vaqueros opened the contest strong, hanging with a good OSU team and even holding the lead into the ninth minute. But when Oklahoma State ratcheted up the defensive pressure midway through the first half, UTRGV had a difficult time dealing with it, turning the ball over on multiple possessions in a row as the Cowboys took over the game. The Vaqueros ended up with 13 turnovers in the first half and 19 overall, one fewer than their season high of 20 on Nov. 25 in an 82-76 loss to Grambling State.
Oklahoma State: After setting a school record with just one free throw attempt in their previous game, a 71-59 win over Tulsa, the Cowboys were far more aggressive in driving the lane in this one. Oklahoma State, which entered the day leading the Big 12 and ranking fifth in the nation with 79.6 percent free-throw shooting, got to the line a season-high 34 times, knocking down 29 (85.3 percent).
"You got to shoot free throws, especially in the bigger games, if you want to give yourself a chance to win," said Smith, who was 3 for 3 from the line. "Coach didn't really harp on it too much, but we knew as a team we didn't get to the free throw line enough, so we tried to be a little bit more aggressive tonight."
Even though he ended up with 14 points, Dixon wasn't much of a factor for the Vaqueros. He started the day leading the Western Athletic Conference and ranking 32nd in the nation with 21.1 points per game, but had just two points until the final second of the first half. He wound up 4-for-12 shooting, still well below his 48.8 percent season average. Dixon also had three assists and three steals, but five turnovers as well.
Oklahoma State's Tavarius Shine had made 13 consecutive free throws before missing one in the first half. He ended up 4 of 7 on free throws and had 12 points. . The Cowboys are now 9-0 this season when leading or tied at halftime and after edging UTRGV 41-36 in rebounds, are 8-0 when out-rebounding its opponent. . Oklahoma State's 48.5 shooting percentage (on 32 of 66 shooting) is the second-highest allowed by UT-Rio Grande Valley this season.
UT-Rio Grande Valley: The Vaqueros are off until Sat., Dec. 30 when they face Hampton at home.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are off for the holidays, returning to action at home against No. 10 West Virginia on Fri., Dec. 29 in their Big 12 Conference opener.