by Ben Collins

We needed this.

There is no other way to put it. Tuesday’s Oklahoma State-Texas, 105-103, firefight was pure, unadulterated necessity.

We didn’t need it to settle anything – not a tussle for a top rank, probably not even a bet any more than a badly wagered “I bet you this game doesn’t go to a third overtime.” It had nothing to do with a postseason. ESPN, in a complete role reversal, didn’t hype it for years and years; it just so happened to be on that night.

But if there was ever a game more important — one that epitomized this entire new era of college basketball — it was this three overtime, never-ending, can-anyone-miss-a-game-tying-shot? masterpiece.

It had a freshman from the Year of the Freshman, maybe even the freshman when all hype is stowed and his season is finally annulled. It had him, too, in his finest hour. At the very least, it saw Kevin Durant’s finest minute.

In the last 18 seconds of regulation, the same Durant who spent half of the game posting up, nailed a three to tie it. Even before his seven more in the first overtime, it was enough to make a prematurely dizzy Oklahoma State coach, Sean Sutton, literally stagger.

And it’s not even March yet.

That, after all, is most compelling part of this. The general public, anyone just flipping by, would have no reason to watch this specific game. This was not Florida-UCLA. Neither Greg Oden’s 7-foot frame nor his immeasurable media show was on the court or in attendance. It wasn’t even a typical rivalry; there were no Aggies of any kind in Gallagher-Iba Arena this Tuesday.

But Texas fans still rushed the court like this was the National Championship in January for a win over a team ranked nine spots higher than their own. Because, now, in this new NCAA, they have a reason to watch every game.

There is no solidified number one this year. The middle and back of the Top-25 is littered with schools with more historic debate teams than basketball programs.

We saw Byron Eaton hurl a turnaround, half-court fadeaway to keep Oklahoma State within . We saw Mario Boggan, 5-for-33 from beyond the arch before the shot, step back for a three to win it. We looked at the boxscore to see “Durant: 37” and “Boggan: 37.” Throughout all of that, we realized that none of this meant anything to the top five teams in the country. And we also realized that rankings, after seeing that game, didn’t matter at all.

This game marked the first shift to newer, better college hoops.

More than anything, it provided proof that it was, in fact, the game that was changing and not us. Because with all of this parity, all of these freshman, all of these big campus players who should be pros and all of these mid-major kids who should be in class that are finding ways to beat them, we could’ve sworn something was different.

But this one night that made us even crazier for the new college basketball ended up proving that we weren’t going crazy all along.

Now onto some quick BabyLinks:

– Anyone who missed the above can see it on the soon-to-be-nonexistent ESPN Classic tonight at 5 EST.

– Some weird, covert-ops Nicholas Cage-movie-type dismissal news from my boys over at BC. The nation’s leading shotblocker Sean Williams and teammate Akida McLain were booted from Chestnut Hill for doing something apparently very wrong. But Andy Katz, who broke the story, doesn’t even know what it is yet. So it’s gotta be worse than what originally got McLain in trouble – accidentally betting on a game of Madden with counterfeit $20 bills. The bigger tragedy lost in this is that he clearly lost the game of Madden, which is absolutely unacceptable for a college athlete.

I’ll make the trek to one of their next games and get the scoop.

– What is this, 1997? Vandy completely destroys Alabama on a night where they didn’t even completely neutralize Jermareo Davidson. If you’re looking for an explanation, well you might want to look at the fact that the Commodores shot almost 60% and were 15-for-28 from three. The entire starting lineup was in double figures. Shan Foster, who is apparently on the men’s team, had 27.
Tumbling. Awkwardly climbing.
– I was wondering why the Coaches and the AP Poll like Tennessee so much? They lost their fifth game last night on a tough ending, a bad timeout call and a technical with 22 seconds left.

So #24 won’t be #24 any longer and I was going to tell you about how I’ve been crying overrated all year. I’d heard good things about their backcourt — Chris Lofton (22.6 a game on 52% shooting) and JaJuan Smith – but I needed some solid proof that two wins against ranked teams (Oklahoma State and a marginal one against Memphis) weren’t just a couple of good nights.

But it became fast apparent Bruce Pearl cares more about his players than anything else. That technical with 22 seconds left was standing up for them. And read his quotes in the AP story:

“I’m going stand up for my kids,” he said. “I’m going to fight to the end.”

How many coaches even say that anymore? So I’ll gladly say I get it now. Even if it’s just from a press conference.