STILLWATER — Another game has passed, and the Cowboys’ NCAA Tournament chances continue to dwindle.
Oklahoma State lost to Kansas State 73-68 on Saturday in Gallagher-Iba Arena, the Cowboys’ fourth straight loss. Here are five thoughts from it.
1. A Missed Opportunity
A win Saturday would’ve went a long way in booking the Cowboys’ ticket to the NCAA Tournament, and it was right there.
The Cowboys led by eight with about 12 minutes to play against a team that hasn’t won on the road since Jan. 7. But from that point on, OSU went on a field-goal drought of 5:45. The Cowboys got four points from the foul line in that span, but no field goals.
When crunch time game, the Cowboys faltered.
“We had an opportunity today to take a step forward in that regard [the NCAA Tournament picture] and didn’t do it,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “So it does us no good to talk about what may happen two weeks from now. If we don’t get ready for Baylor, it doesn’t really matter.”
2. Two Losing Plays
In a two-possession game, two plays stand out that really stung the Pokes.
The first came at the end of the first half. With mere seconds to play in the half, a Chris Harris inbound pass got stolen, and Desi Sills took it all the way to the basket for a layup. OSU should’ve, at worst, had a 35-31 lead in the locker room. Instead, that lead was 35-33 with the Wildcats having the momentum of four straight points.
Then with about two minutes to play, K-State had an inbounds pass from under the basket with only two seconds left on the shot clock. Sills somehow got free under the basket, caught a pass and made a layup to give K-State a 69-64 lead.
It’s easy to put those two plays under a microscope given how tightly contested the game was, but man, those seem extra rough given hindsight.
3. Defense Still Suspect
Across the past four games, OSU has allowed three teams to shoot 49% from the field or better. Before playing Kansas on Valentine’s Day, OSU had allowed only one team to shoot that well.
The Wildcats went 24-for-49 (49%) against OSU and went 8-for-21 (38%) from 3. It’s a perplexing proposition considering the Cowboys’ defense was once thought of as one of the best in the country, much less the league. The Cowboys’ defense was so good before this rough patch that the Pokes still rank in the Top 15 nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency.
Boynton said the defense was better in some areas Saturday than it had been over the past few games but that the defense faltered in some key moments.
“We haven’t guarded to the standard that Coach Mike holds us to, but also we just got comfortable with where we were at defensively,” Kalib Boone said. “Now teams are making us pay for getting comfortable and that’s the thing that we gotta fix.
“I’m frustrated because that’s the one thing that no matter what team we’ve had at this school we’ve been known for is defense. When we don’t guard, it’s like we don’t care about the history and everything that came with it. Everybody used to tell me all the time Coach (Eddie) Sutton and Coach (Henry) Iba, they loved defense. Defense was the key. When we don’t do that, it’s like we don’t care about it. The last few games we haven’t guarded to the best of our abilities.”
4. 3s Not Falling
Coming into today, OSU was shooting 30.8% from deep on the year. If the Cowboys would’ve shot that Saturday, they would’ve made two more 3s against K-State in a game they lose by five points — but they didn’t. OSU was just 5-for-23 (21.7% from deep).
The 3-point shooting hasn’t been bad all year (it hasn’t been great, either). The Cowboys have shot 40% or better from deep in six games this season and have shot above 35% on 12 occasions. But here in these crucial situations down the stretch, the Pokes have gone cold again.
“It can get frustrating at times because we’re in the gym all day shooting,” said Caleb Asberry who went 1-for-6 from deep. “But coach tells us to shoot them. Eventually they’re gonna fall. There not always gonna be off, but right now we just gotta stay locked in and just keep shooting wide open shots.”
5. Crunch Time
The dance is coming, and the Cowboys are still waiting on a response from their would-be date.
OSU’s NCAA Tournament destiny is still in the Cowboys’ hands, but it turns Monday’s game against a Top 10 Baylor squad into what feels like a must-win. It’s not totally a must win. The Cowboys try for some magical run at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, but beating one team is a whole lot simpler than having to win a 10-team tournament. And that’s not to say that one win against Baylor even gets them in for sure, but it might.
If OSU fails to win Monday, the Pokes’ game in Lubbock against a surging Texas Tech squad suddenly carries even more weight if the Cowboys want to get to eight Big 12 wins.
The avenues are still there, but it feels like this 10-lane highway has turned into a two-way dirt road.
For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still has the Cowboys as the last team in even after Saturday’s loss. That could change with results throughout the evening, though.
“There’s no magic bullet — there’s no special potion that we’re gonna rub on in the next 48 hours to get ready for another really good team that’s built differently, that you gotta play differently to beat than you had to play today,” Boynton said. “If you want to accomplish the goals to be relevant after next week, then you gotta find a way to get the job done.”