Lost teeth, won games '95 Pokes' hallmark

 

A decade later, OSU's Scott Pierce is still cherished for his performance, and remembered for losing a tooth.

Everybody, according to Andy Warhol and former Oklahoma State basketball player Scott Pierce, gets 15 minutes of fame.

Pierce's 15 minutes has lasted a decade. It's 2005 and OSU fans still remember him as the "toothless" player who helped the Cowboys reach the 1995 Final Four.

Bryant "Big Country" Reeves and Randy Rutherford were the offensive stars of that team. But it was Pierce who, thanks to a late-season incident, became the face of the Cowboys.

A cap on one of Pierce's front teeth was knocked out by a Derek Kellogg elbow during a Final Four-clinching victory over Massachusetts. Pierce was left with a significant gap in his smile.

Pierce said he looked "completely ridiculous" and he felt ridiculous during a postgame interview with broadcaster Verne Lundquist.

"I had forgotten how much your teeth keep you from spitting," Pierce said in a telephone interview this week.

"While I was doing the interview, I could see spit coming out of my mouth and landing on Verne Lundquist. It's hard to do an interview when you are missing a tooth. It takes your IQ down at least 50 points when you are missing a front tooth."

OSU fans appreciated Pierce's sacrifice and, two years after the movie "Sleepless in Seattle" became a hit, "Toothless in Seattle" became the Cowboys' Final Four mantra. Seattle was the 1995 Final Four site.

A fractured smile was a small price to pay for the memories Pierce and the Cowboys accumulated during an unlikely Final Four run.

OSU began the season 9-5. After an ugly loss at Kansas State in a Big Eight opener, coach Eddie Sutton wondered if he had booked passage on an NIT-bound voyage.

But the Cowboys finished second in the league race, won the conference tournament and Reeves rampaged past four NBA-bound post players (Drexel's Malik Rose, Alabama's Antonio McDyess, Wake Forest's Tim Duncan and Massachusetts' Marcus Camby) in consecutive NCAA Tournament victories.

A late-season slide preceded the sizzling postseason. The Cowboys lost two of their last three regular-season games, including a bizarre defeat at Kansas in which Rutherford set a series record with 45 points and Reeves was shut out.

OSU wants to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 1995 Final Four trip with an instant replay. The current Cowboys, who lost three of their last four regular-season games, hope to use this week's Big 12 Tournament as a launching pad for a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Before this season began, and perhaps even a month ago, coach Eddie Sutton was of the opinion that OSU could make significant noise in the NCAA Tournament. He conceded this week there are a lot of teams playing better than the Cowboys. But the Pokes, with a bit of success in Kansas City, can secure a better NCAA Tournament seed than they did in 1995.

Seeded fourth, OSU was the party crasher of the '95 Final Four. The other qualifiers -- Arkansas, UCLA and North Carolina -- were No. 1 seeds who took turns atop the national polls.

"We weren't very talented," Pierce said. "We had guys who knew their roles and we executed those to the best of our ability. It sounds like a cliche, but it's true. And, another thing, we liked one another and I think because we liked one another we played hard for our teammates as well as our coaches."

The national media portrayed OSU as both the Cinderella of the tournament and the Jethro of the tournament. The latter image was fueled because reporters seemed to enjoy peppering Reeves (who is from Gans) and Rutherford (a toothpick-chewing guard from Broken Bow) with questions about their small-town backgrounds.

One reporter asked Reeves where Gans' only stop sign was located. "Right in the middle of town," Reeves said. "You know, where the roads cross."

When OSU beat UMass in the Elite Eight, a picture on the back page of the New York Daily News showed Reeves high-fiving point guard Andre Owens and the photo was accompanied by a banner headline which read "Yeeeee-Ha!"

USA Today columnist Bryan Burwell wrote that Rutherford is "the only brother I know who sounds like Gomer Pyle." Reeves was called an "oaf" by Chicago Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome.

But Reeves and Rutherford got the last laugh and proved that Hank Williams Jr., was right -- a country boy can survive.

Reeves averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds in games against Rose, McDyess, Duncan and Camby. Rutherford scored 16, 18, 23 and 19 points en route to the Final Four, making 13-of-30 shots from 3-point range.

"If somebody else scored, it was an added bonus," Pierce said. "We never knew who it would be."

Pierce concentrated on defense and drew the assignment of guarding Jason Caffey, Lou Roe and Ed O'Bannon in consecutive games. Owens, by season's end, was the Big Eight's second-best point guard, according to Sutton. The Cowboys' other starter, Terry Collins, concentrated on defense because he tore a tendon in his index finger when he tried to block a dunk in a first-round NCAA Tournament game. Sixth man Chianti Roberts was the only bench player to get more than six minutes of court time at the Final Four.

Defense carried OSU to Seattle. The Cowboys limited their first four NCAA Tournament opponents to 32 percent shooting. They upset a No. 1 seed and a No. 2 seed in a three-day span. And, by the time a Final Four showdown with UCLA arrived, they believed they could play with anyone.

"We beat three teams every bit as good as that UCLA team that won the national title," Sutton said this week. "We got to the Final Four and just didn't play quite as well and UCLA beat us."

The score was tied at halftime, but OSU shot 32.1 percent in the second half. Somehow, the Cowboys were still within three points entering the last two minutes. The Bruins scored the game's final 10 points to secure a 74-61 decision and went on to beat defending national champion Arkansas in the title game.

"I know we were a better team than UCLA," Pierce said. "People don't believe that, but I feel like we played a poor game and we were still in it until the last minute."

Another of Pierce's regrets is he didn't save his box full of broken glass. If he had kept it, he could have made a small fortune selling souvenirs to OSU fans.

Reeves shattered a backboard with a dunk during a Final Four practice in Seattle. Shards of glass splashed onto the court. Pierce wanted a keepsake.

"A janitor said he would sweep it all up and I could get some of it," Pierce said. "He came in and gave me a box of glass -- a huge box."

As Pierce was leaving the arena, people lined up and began offering cash for a chunk of glass. A bidding war broke out. At just about that time, Sutton yelled, "Pierce, hurry up and get on the bus."

So, Pierce toted his box full of backboard wreckage to the bus and later gave pieces to teammates, band members and anyone else who asked for a sliver.

"Looking back on it, I was idiotic," Pierce said.

Otherwise, remembrances of the ride of his life are fond.

"It's like I haven't talked to some of those guys in five years," he said. "But when I do talk to them and see them, it's almost like a kindred spirit type of deal. There is a bond of such a nature that really can't be mimicked. People ask me if I miss playing basketball. The honest answer to that is no. But I miss the camaraderie of that group and the team and things like that."