Throughout his record-breaking career at Wake Forest, senior Randolph Childress was known for his ability to win games in the clutch.
Friday night, Childress had one last chance to add to his reputation, but instead he ended his career with a costly turnover as the Demon Deacons' late comeback fell short in a 71-66 loss to Oklahoma State in the East Regional semifinals before 19,689 at the Meadowlands Arena.
With less than 15 seconds remaining and Wake Forest trailing by three points, Childress dribbled into the arms of Oklahoma State's Andre Owens, who came up with the ball and found Terry Collins for a game-clinching dunk to send the Cowboys (26-9) against Massachusetts in their first regional final since 1955.
"I knew we needed a three, but I was anticipating a double-team off of the screen (set by teammate Tim Duncan)," said Childress, who scored 13 of his 22 points in the second half. "Once I saw the double-team coming, I looked for Timmy, but I just lost control of the ball."
What Childress really saw was Oklahoma State's version of a man-mountain in Bryant (Big Country) Reeves, the Cowboys' 7-foot, 292-pound center.
"With Reeves standing right there in front of me, the three-pointer we needed appeared to be a lot longer out," Childress said.
In the box score, Reeves had a quiet game when compared to his center counterpart Duncan, who had 12 points, 22 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
But Reeves' 15 points and nine rebounds do not tell the whole story. In playing the entire game, Reeves' presence was felt on both ends of the floor as his big body caused havoc for the Demon Deacons.
Defensively, Reeves had only two blocks, but he was able to force Wake Forest's offense farther out and help force the Demon Deacons into 11 turnovers.
On offense, Reeves made only four of 15 shots from the field, but his screens helped open up scoring opportunities for Randy Rutherford, who had a game-high 23 points, and Chianti Roberts, who came off the bench to score 13.
"It was hard getting around him when he set a pick because he's so large," said Childress, who guarded swingman Rutherford for most of the game. "He's so big that it's like a 500- to 600-pound screen because you not only had to get around him but also your own player too."
With Rutherford hitting from the outside with three three-pointers and also breaking free for layups, Oklahoma State was able to answer every Wake Forest run.
In knocking off the top-seeded Demon Deacons, the Cowboys received unexpected contributions from Roberts and Owens.
Roberts, who had averaged only 6.4 points and 3.2 rebounds, gave the Cowboys a spark with strong inside play in making six of eight shots and grabbing six rebounds.
Owens, who did not take a shot in the first half, scored eight points in the final 20 minutes, but more importantly was able to keep Childress from scoring a point over the final seven minutes.
"We wanted to stop Childress from getting the ball, and we did a good job of that down the stretch," Owens said. "I just tried to make him work and get some help from (Reeves)."
For the Demon Deacons (26-6), their dream season is over, which means their absence from the Final Four will grow to 36 years.
"Oklahoma State is absolutely one of the best teams around--and not just defensively," Wake Forest Coach Dave Odom said. "Their defense is so good, that sometimes you forget how good they are on offense. We lost to a great team that has a chance to go all the way and there is no disgrace in that."