- Andy Katz, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Before John Lucas came to Oklahoma State this season, the Cowboys didn't have someone willing to take the last shot. Now in Stillwater, Lucas is credited with elevating the Cowboys to a Big 12 championship.
Fittingly, he got them to the Final Four with a 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left -- a shot that beat Saint Joseph's 64-62 Saturday night in the East Rutherford regional final.
"A lot of players would run and hide and not want to be remembered as the player that missed the shot that would have won the game for Oklahoma State," Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton said. "He's a gutsy little guy. He hit one of the biggest shots in the history of Oklahoma State basketball."
Lucas was admittedly awful in the first half, going 1-for-6 overall, 0-for-5 on 3s, including chucking up three air balls. His turnaround was remarkable. He scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half, making 6 of 14 shots, 3 of 7 3-pointers.
It was clear Lucas was too hyped to start the game. Prior to the tip, the transfer from Baylor ran over to the basket support stand and started punching the padding to get himself pumped up. By halftime, Sutton was telling Lucas to settle down. He told him he was playing too fast.
So, Lucas changed his mindset at the half. He also saw his father John motioning to him before halftime, telling him to keep his arm straight and to follow through on his shot. When he got to the locker room, Lucas also had a one-on-one conversation with himself.
He reminded himself that his play in the first half was "horrible, absolutely horrible." And, when a reporter asked him during the postgame interview what was he thinking when his last shot of the first half was an air ball, Lucas replied:
"What was I thinking when I shot the ball?"
The reporter repeated the question, "when you were on the sideline?" (thinking Lucas had misunderstood his first question).
"I know -- what I was thinking was, 'What was I thinking when I shot that ball?' " Lucas repeated.
"I told myself to keep shooting because I didn't want to lose my confidence,'' Lucas said of his personal halftime pep talk. "You've got to have confidence in yourself to take those shots. If you miss it, then oh well, at least you were willing to take the last shot."
Saint Joseph's senior point guard Jameer Nelson was also willing to take the game into his own hands, firing the last shot for the Hawks. He too had a decent look, although he had to fade away on his jumper just behind the free-throw line over the outstretched arm of Daniel Bobik. Nelson's potential tying basket missed.
Still, the Hawks wouldn't have wanted anyone but Nelson to take that shot.
The Cowboys also wanted Lucas to have the ball.
Lucas' shot came only after Oklahoma State's Joey Graham nearly lost the ball making a move on Pat Carroll. Recovering just in time, Graham passed to Lucas who was open as Tyrone Barley tried to recover.
"I think he was really excited in the first half because of the matchup. He seemed nervous," Nelson said of Lucas. "He put a lot of pressure on himself. I'm sure they talked to him to quiet him down. They did a good job of calming him down.
"Coach (Phil) Martelli told us that Lucas will take big shots. That's what he did. And he hit it."
Lucas' father, John, was coaching his son throughout the game. After Lucas hit his 3-pointer and Nelson missed his shot as the buzzer sounded, the younger Lucas ran not to his teammates, but rather to find his father. Their embrace on the sideline was just the latest display of their father-son friendship.
As their names would imply, the two are in sync. Each seems to always know when to look toward the other. The younger Lucas speaks glowingly of his father every time he is asked about the former NBA player and coach. He said he was there for his father during his father's rough times when he was battling a drug habit. And now his father is with him during his college career, helping him become one of the country's top point guards.
Lucas has an understanding of the history of the game and of Sutton's attempts to win the national title. He was appreciative of Sutton giving him a chance once the NCAA and the Big 12 allowed the Baylor players to transfer after the death of Patrick Dennehy last summer, the subsequent violations in the program and the self-imposed postseason ban.
Then again, where would the Cowboys be without him?
"We wouldn't be going to San Antonio,'' Sutton said candidly.
Bobik and Tony Allen certainly wouldn't be free to play their more natural positions of shooting guard.
Lucas meshed with the team immediately and filled the void at the point. And his father was never a distraction to Sutton's coaching. He wasn't a meddling parent or sideline expert in games or practices.
"John Lucas' father is so supportive of the coaching staff," Sutton said. "He stayed on John. He knows the game, knows how we play and our philosophy. He tells John the same things we would. He has never second-guessed and always been a help to us."
That's why when Lucas looked up to see his father motioning a few shooting tips, it ultimately helped the Cowboys win.
"I respect coach Sutton so much," Lucas said. "He took a chance on me by accepting me as a player. I feel like I've been here for four years, not just since August. When I saw that he has coached so many games without getting a ring, that really motivated me to get him one."
John Lucas has done something his father never did at Maryland: advance to the Final Four. Maybe he'll do what no other Sutton-coached player has done ... win it all.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
After a awful first half, John Lucas hit the shot of his career to send OSU to the Final Four.