It was a good day for the Kansas Jayhawks before they ever stepped on the floor in Stillwater against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, but after a 40-minute war, the general mood of Bill Self and company took a downturn.
Kansas clinched the outright Big 12 regular season championship with losses from Iowa State and Texas earlier in the day, but they couldn’t quite keep that momentum going on Saturday night. The Jayhawks encountered a quality opponent on the road in OSU, and despite grabbing a double-digit lead in the second half, KU couldn’t hold on in a 72-65 defeat.
The first half was certainly not the finest hour for either team, as Kansas shot just 35% from the floor with 11 turnovers and OSU shot just 24% from the floor on the other end. At the end of 20 minutes, Kansas led by 1 point, but it certainly didn’t feel like either team was playing particularly well.
After the break, it looked as if the Cowboys would regret not taking advantage of the ugly first half, as Kansas ran out to a 10-point lead in the first 9+ minutes. However, OSU made a big-time run shortly following that push, resulting in the Cowboys retaking the lead with 5:50 to play in the game. From there, it was a back-and-forth affair with both teams picking up the intensity, but in the end, it was the Marcus Smart show in Stillwater.
Smart scored only 1 point in the first half, but in the final 20 minutes, the highly-touted guard took over, scoring 20 points in the second half, including multiple huge plays in the final minutes to lead the Cowboys to victory. Obviously, it hasn’t been a storybook season for Smart, but he was fantastic down the stretch here, and that gives some positivity to OSU’s future.
In support of Smart, Markel Brown (20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals) and Le’Bryan Nash (16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks) were enormous, and this was a total team effort. Winning against a top-5 team is huge no matter the circumstance or venue, but this particular victory may have sealed a bid in the NCAA Tournament for the Cowboys, and that makes it even sweeter.
There is no real shame in dropping a road game to a quality team, but Kansas fans will be lamenting the lack of ball security in this one. The Jayhawks committed 22 turnovers in the game, repeatedly giving the ball away with carelessness, and that was the single biggest difference between KU (who actually won the rebounding battle, 42-24) and OSU in this one.
One night doesn’t erase an entire season of issues in Stillwater, but this was a huge win.