- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - It has been 15 years since Gallagher-Iba Arena hosted the most important game of its storied history.

The game was not a championship. It did not decide much.

But it still gives Fredrik Jonzen chills just thinking about it.

“I’ve never really experienced that kind of energy and atmosphere in any of the games that I’ve played at Gallagher-Iba,” said Jonzen, a former Oklahoma State University forward.

The Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/23tZTxs ) reports that the significance of Feb. 5, 2001, is not necessarily tied to the game itself, a 69-66 victory for Oklahoma State over Missouri in a regular-season Big 12 clash. The night’s meaning is in the gift it brought to the 13,611 people who crammed into the arena, and to the families of the 10 who could not. It offered a win and a little bit of jubilation for a community whose joy had been stolen nine days earlier.

It was the first game since 10 men died in a plane crash on Jan. 27, 2001, on the way home from Oklahoma State’s game at Colorado. Two of them - Nate Fleming and Daniel Lawson - were players. All were members of the Oklahoma State community.

Their names and legacies are remembered in a memorial in the arena, next to the athletic academic center. The 10 will be on the minds of those who enter the arena for Remember the Ten night.

And, 15 years later, that first game without the 10 is still remembered with reverence by those who were a part of it.

The deafening crowd, the moment of silence - Terrence Crawford’s climactic dunk - all are fresh on the mind today.

The healing process started that February night.

“No doubt about it. Most important game I ever played in in my life,” former Oklahoma State guard Victor Williams said.

In that era, Oklahoma State basketball game days were full of excitement and anticipation. The community usually rallied around coach Eddie Sutton’s group. There was some of that typical energy for this game - Todd Rosenthal, a 2002 OSU graduate who watched from floor seats in the student section, remembers students lining up for entry to GIA starting that morning.

“I cannot remember a louder time than that game,” he said.

But for the players, there was not the same sort of feeling. From the moment he entered the arena to the moment he took the court on Feb. 5, 2001, the aura around the game felt different to Williams.

The Cowboys felt they had a job to do.

“We felt like we really needed to win the game to give some people some type of joy during such a devastating time,” said Sean Sutton, then an Oklahoma assistant coach.

The previous week-and-a-half had been a blur. The whole campus was somber, and Sean Sutton said it seemed that more time was spent talking to the team than actually practicing. The Cowboys’ workouts were more of a distraction and an escape.

And they needed that.

“Hard to sleep, hard to eat. Hard to really do anything,” said the forward Jonzen, who was Fleming’s roommate. “The first few days, you don’t have the energy to even want to think about basketball. But after a while, and that’s how I felt back then, I remember thinking the one thing that kind of brought us all together and we have a common goal while we’re there was basketball.”

They missed Lawson’s ability to provide upbeat, comedic relief in practices. If you had a bad game, or something not going right, you found him, Williams said. They missed Fleming, a young man who Williams said would be a coach right now if he were still here.

So they found little ways to keep the memories alive. Jonzen and forward Andre Williams - who was Lawson’s roommate - wore the pair’s practice jerseys under their uniforms.

“It was a tight fit, but I wore it every game after that,” said Jonzen, who was about 10 inches taller than his roommate. “It just kind of became a natural thing that I wanted to do. Even though it was a tight fit, it was a cool reminder of him.”

Just as the players felt a responsibility to the community, the fans felt they needed to support the players.

Rosenthal, the former student, stood in line for the same seats near the home bench every game - including on Feb. 5. He remembered a pregame pep talk given by a fellow student:

“It doesn’t matter if we’re down by 45. This has to be the loudest this building’s ever been,” was the message.

When the players took the court for warmups, the place was already packed. Eddie Sutton said the crowd deserved a “letter jacket” after the game.

After the pregame moment of silence, Voice of the Cowboys Larry Reece bellowed: “Tonight, remembering our fallen 10, we’ll prove once again this is the rrrrrowdiest arena in the country!”

The team was playing for the community; the community crowing for the team. Every person in Gallagher-Iba Arena doing his best to lift each other up; a way of paying tribute to the 10 who died.

“We were looking for something to remind us we’re all in this together,” said Kelly Murray, a freshman at the time who was sitting near Rosenthal.

“I remember when we ran out there, it was like a bunch of your family members trying to cheer you up,” Victor Williams said. “You walk into your house after a bad day and you’ve got 13,000 family members trying to cheer you up after your bad day. That’s kind of how I felt.”

Then, the game tipped off.

Fittingly, Jonzen and Andre Williams - the pair who lost their roommates - played two of their most memorable games. The entire team seemed to be playing off its emotions, moving at a breakneck pace to take an early 11-4 lead.

Jonzen scored seven of the first nine points, running the floor, nailing jump shots and even dishing to Maurice Baker for an early assist.

When OSU fell behind by one at halftime, he did the same thing to start the second half, scoring in bunches. Jonzen finished with a career-high 26 points.

“It’s funny how the mind and the body works,” he said. “I don’t know how much I lost in weight from not eating and sleep deprivation and all those things. But, yeah, it was an energy that was there and adrenaline. I just remember feeling like, whatever we did, it worked.”

Andre Williams grabbed 15 rebounds and said after the game it was the best defensive game of his career “by far.”

Victor Williams, a fan favorite for pumping up the crowd, hit two 3-pointers.

And Crawford, a freshman, threw down a dunk that nearly took the roof off of Gallagher-Iba.

Crawford was close to Lawson. Lawson spent Christmas with his family. And he was teammates with Fleming on the first organized basketball team he had ever played with, back when he was 7 or 8 years old.

Leading 51-50, and with the crowd already at a fever pitch, Crawford tipped a pass intended for Clarence Gilbert, drove in transition from near the Oklahoma bench and slammed home a left-handed dunk while getting fouled.

Rosenthal, who was in the arena for Bryant Reeves’ legendary half-court shot and plenty of wrestling matches, puts Crawford’s dunk at No. 1.

“That was literally the loudest moment I’ve ever heard in Gallagher,” he said.

Victor Williams said he saw some of Lawson in Crawford’s play.

“It was almost like TC had the dunk, and if you remember how he reacted to it, it was goofy, kind of,” he said. “It was like Terrence had the dunk, but it was almost like you see Daniel in the dunk. You see his personality, how he would react to that play. So it was kind of a weird thing for us all because that’s kind of how Daniel would have reacted to it.”

Oklahoma State held on for the three-point victory, with Melvin Sanders coming up with a key steal at the end.

After the worst week of their lives, the 2001 Oklahoma State players managed to climb back up from the depths.

Occasionally, Jonzen watches the replay of the game on YouTube. It was a needed ounce of joy. And it was not just for themselves.

“Just getting out there and seeing people smile and seeing people cheer and people having fun after that was the most important thing to me,” Victor Williams said. “And that, I’ve never played a basketball game like that. I’ve never played a basketball game where I felt so responsible for other people. And that’s what made that game so different.”


Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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