Sutton elevated basketball to new heights in the Southwest

Eddie Sutton, a Hall of Fame coach who led four different teams to the NCAA basketball tournament and lifted the game to new heights in the Southwest at Arkansas, died Saturday night. He was 84.

The family released a statement to the Tulsa World.

“Our beloved Dad and Papa coach Eddie Sutton passed away peacefully of natural causes the evening of May 23rd at his home in south Tulsa,” the family said. “He was surrounded by his 3 sons and their families, which include his nine adoring grandchildren. He is reunited with his No. 1 assistant — his bride Patsy Sutton — who passed away in January 2013 after 54 years of marriage.”

Sutton won everywhere he worked, notching 806 victories overall and guiding Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State to the NCAA tournament. He led both Arkansas and Oklahoma State to the Final Four.

Even in San Antonio, Sutton made his mark.

After gaining national notoriety in guiding the Razorbacks to the Final Four in 1978, he brought his teams to Southwest Conference tournaments twice downtown in the Alamo City at the old HemisFair Arena. In 1981, UTSA played its inaugural game at the arena against a powerhouse Arkansas squad coached by Sutton.

Later, Sutton would make headlines again in San Antonio when he led the Oklahoma State Cowboys to the 2004 Final Four at the Alamodome.

“Dad and Mom treated their players like family and always shared the belief that his teachings went beyond the basketball court,” the family said in a statement. “He cherished the time he spent at every school and appreciated the support from their loyal fans. He believed they deserved so much credit in the success of his programs.

“He felt his recent Hall of Fame [induction] was an honor and a tribute to the great players he coached and outstanding assistant coaches that worked for him.”

Sutton’s national star began to rise when he recruited Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph to Arkansas.

Together, ‘The Triplets’ sparked a 1978 Arkansas team that posted a 32-4 record. The Hogs lost to Kentucky in the NCAA semifinals and then finished third in the tournament after a two-point victory over Notre Dame.

He also achieved a high level of success at his alma mater, Oklahoma State, pacing the Cowboys to 13 NCAA tournament appearances in 16 seasons, including Final Fours in 1995 and 2004. Both years, the Cowboys lost in the semifinals.

In ’95, they made it to Seattle behind Bryant ‘Big Country’ Reeves. But they were denied a shot at the championship when they fell to eventual champion UCLA, 74-61.

In 2004, Sutton’s Cowboys roared into the Final Four at the Alamodome behind Tony Allen, John Lucas Jr., Joey Graham and Ivan McFarlin.

They lost 67-65 to Georgia Tech in the semifinals.

His death comes seven weeks after his election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Sutton’s selection was announced on April 3. He was 806-328 in 37 seasons, with his teams reaching 25 NCAA tournaments.