Josh Owens felt like he was home, even if it was the first time he played a men's basketball game at Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York City.
Stanford's 6-foot-8 senior forward made his first nine shots from the field, scored 15 of the Cardinal first 20 points, and finished with 21 points to lead Stanford to an 82-67 victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday night in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
"In our huddle before the game I told the team it doesn't matter if we're at the Garden, back at Stanford or in a playground, we had to come out and try to win," he said. "It was a great experience to win here."
Owens, born and raised in New Hampshire, was motivated for this one. He had friends and family to impress. Madison Square Garden was one of his hanging around spots while prepping at Phillips Exeter Academy.
"Usually when I'm at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue I'm getting a train to New Jersey," Owens said.
Freshman Chasson Randle scored 17 points for Stanford (5-0), which will play No. 5 Syracuse for the championship on Friday night. The Orangemen downed Virginia Tech, 69-58, in the other semifinal.
The Cardinal, which is 5-0 for the first time since opening the 2008-09 season with 10 straight wins, scored the last six points of the first half to take a 46-35 lead and then opened the second half on a 12-0 run to take control of the contest. Stanford made four of its nine 3-pointers during the spurt and enjoyed its best shooting night beyond the 3-point line this season. Randle and Aaron Bright, who scored 15 points, each finished with a hat trick of 3-pointers.
"We think we can shoot the ball so it wasn't really an emphasis tonight," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "We spaced the floor and got good looks. We always stay in character, tell them to be ready when those shots present themselves and for the most part we took good shots."
This was Oklahoma State's first game since women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and his assistant, Miranda Serna, were killed along with two others in a plane crash last week. The players all had the number 4 on the left shoulder of their uniforms.
"I don't want to make any excuses on that. (Stanford) deserves better than that. Our guys could just never turn it on," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. "It's been a long week, but I think our guys were ready to go."
Stanford came into the game shooting 32.8 percent from 3-point range and the most 3s the Cardinal had in one game was seven against UC Davis. The Cardinal were 5 of 10 from long range in the first half, with Bright going 3 for 5. Randle matched his effort in the second half and Stanford was 9 of 19 from beyond the arc in the game.
It was another solid defensive effort by the Cardinal, which had not allowed an opponent to reach 60 points in its first four games.
"Especially early we did a good job defensively, getting in the passing lanes and causing turnovers," Dawkins said.
Stanford's lead reached as much as 28 points, the last time at 74-46 on a basket by Randle with 7:46 to play.
"Our focus was for a team effort and we really played well together and shared the ball, which we've been working on," Dawkins said. "There were stretches where we played really, really good defense."