Lessons learned?

When Memphis and Oklahoma State meet for the second time in 2013-14 on Sunday night, both teams have a chance to prove they've learned lessons. Which team has learned more will go a long way to deciding who wins the Old Spice Classic title game.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The final game of the 2013 Old Spice Classic Sunday brings the rematch most around college basketball were hoping to see.

And, with all due respect to Butler and LSU, the two best teams from this week's field of eight in HP Field House will take center stage (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) when No. 5 Oklahoma State (7-0) and No. 21 Memphis (4-1) meet for the second time in 12 days.

Last time around, in raucous Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, the Cowboys pistol-whipped Josh Pastner's Tigers 101-80, fueled by 39 points from consensus preseason All-American Marcus Smart.


On Sunday night, with the tournament title on the line, Pastner says his young and developing team will treat this game like any other and isn't operating with payback in mind.

"Oklahoma State is a great team. They've got a great player obviously in Marcus Smart. Travis Ford does a tremendous job with their team," explained Pastner after Memphis' 76-69 win over LSU on Friday. "It's the next game on our schedule. I'm not big into revenge. It's the next game. We just have to get better and trust the process. When you look at our schedule, we don't have time to get up one game."

Pastner, acutely aware of the perception nationwide and in his backyard since the road thumping his team took on Nov. 19, is concentrating most on how his team responds when put in challenging situations.

"It's Memphis, in terms of the city. People in the city were upset. We were all upset," recalled Pastner, looking back his squad's sole loss in 2013-14. "I tried to say it's a process and it's going to take some time. We have nine new guys. We're not a team that's been together for a long time. I knew it was going to take some time. I also knew one of the key things for this team was how do we handle adversity?"

The challenge for Ford's Pokes is a different one altogether.

Undefeated and flying high after the first Memphis game, Oklahoma State nearly saw its perfect season come crashing down Friday when a game Butler crew was oh so close to reversing a 14-point halftime deficit to knock the Cowboys from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Oklahoma State survived 69-67, thanks to a blocked shot by Michael Cobbins on Elijah Brown as time expired, but Ford will have to get his troops back up emotionally one more time, against a hungry opponent in Memphis.


Ford has a challenge on his hands Sunday
"A great game, a very emotional game, a high-level game with two good basketball teams," said Ford, visibly spent, in postgame interviews. "Somebody just mentioned it felt like an NCAA Tournament-type game, and that's what it felt like. Two teams that were wanting to win very badly."

Another challenge for Ford is correcting a bad habit his Pokes have adopted in the land of Mickey and Minnie – giving up second-half runs. A day before Butler wiped away a double-digit OSU lead, Purdue turned a very similar trick, storming back from a 23-point halftime hole to come within four with less than four minutes to play.

"We're not paying attention to details as much as we are in the first half," acknowledged Ford. "Coming in here, our first five games against good opponents, South Florida especially, we'd be up 15 or go up 15 or 20 in the second half, and our guys just get into a mode a little bit that it's just automatically going to happen. We're just automatically going to win by 20 or 30 because it's happened in the past.

"Against good teams like Purdue or Butler, these teams have a lot of fight to them. They're not just going to lay over, and I don't think we've responded as well. I told these guys it's not about playing hard. We play hard. It's just a difference between playing hard and competing at a level in order to get a win against these types of opponents in the second half."

Without a home-court advantage this time, Ford knows his Cowboys will have to play a 40-minute game. Heeding the lesson learned from the team's last two second halves, and not letting off the gas pedal, is likely to be the difference in going 2-0 versus Memphis, almost certainly an NCAA Tournament team, or splitting with the Tigers.

"This time of the year it's just win and learn. That's the only thing," Ford reflected.

Sunday night will show just which team has learned the most from the past few weeks.

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