The Day After: A sad Saturday at Oklahoma State
It's hard to imagine that the day after this one was anything but somber for the Kansas University basketball team, which clinched the outright Big 12 title thanks to losses by Texas and Iowa State, lost at Oklahoma State after holding a 10-point lead midway through the second half.
No celebration. No elation. Just disappointment over a loss that should have never been, one that featured 22 turnovers, ugly point guard play and an inability to make plays down the stretch.
Of course, to put it all on KU would be unfair to Oklahoma State, which played hungry and desperate and got excellent contributions from Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash and especially Marcus Smart, who poured in 20 points in the second half.
The loss dropped Kansas to 22-7 overall and 13-3 in the Big 12. But with a three-game lead over four teams and just two regular season conference games to play, the conference title is KU's outright, even if it didn't quite feel like it on Saturday night.
As poorly as KU played at times in Stillwater, and as much as it probably stung to give up a 10-point lead the Jayhawks worked hard to build, the latest outcome was not a total disaster. Oklahoma State has talent — a lot of it — and had a lot to play for, its postseason life and one more show for the home fans at the top of the list. Beyond that, the Jayhawks' bottom line didn't really change after this loss. They're still on pace to be a top seed in the big dance — a 2 or even a 1 still seem most likely — and they are the top seed in the upcoming Big 12 tourney, which will follow games at home against Texas Tech and at West Virginia. Don't get me wrong, if KU plays, and especially closes games, the way it did on Saturday, a deep postseason run will be in jeopardy. That's the bigger question at this point, but given the way these guys have performed all year, a bounce-back seems more likely than a collapse.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Andrew Wiggins had an off night shooting the ball from the outside and couldn't get much to fall in close either, but he competed his butt off especially on the glass. The one scrum midway through the second half where KU came away with three loose balls or rebounds in the paints and Oklahoma State kept turning them away was a perfect indication of just how hard both teams played and wanted this one. Wiggins wound up at the free throw line and pushed KU's lead to 52-42. Things slowly went downhill from there, though.
2 – KU's first-half defense was pretty fantastic. And tough. Oklahoma State made just six field goals during the game's first 20 minutes and had just one player with more than one bucket at the break. What's more, the lockdown defense came when KU really needed it. Behind three early buckets from Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State had jumped out to a 14-7 lead and, with KU's offense struggling, was in position to create some serious distance between the home team and the visitors on the scoreboard. But the Jayhawks locked in — especially on sharp-shooter Phil Forte who was 1-of-4 in the first half and 1-of-6 for the game — scrapped their way back into it on the offensive end and led 26-25 at halftime despite shooting just 35 percent themselves.
3 – Had it not been for offensive rebounds, the Jayhawks might have been blown out of the gym. KU outdid OSU 15-3 on the offensive glass, which led to a 13-4 advantage in second-chance points. Two Jayhawks (Perry Ellis and Andrew Wiggins) had more offensive rebounds (5) than all but one of the OSU players had in total rebounds.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Foul trouble was a big factor in this one and the Jayhawks were guilty of a lot of hacking. That led to 33 free throw attempts for Oklahoma State, which cashed 27 of those, and OSU outscored Kansas by 13 points at the free throw line. Not only that but Wiggins and Joel Embiid both had to sit for a stretch in the second half with three fouls. KU's reserves did a nice job during that stretch but you can't help but think that seeing those two sitting instead of trying to throw the knockout punch helped Oklahoma State believe they still had a shot.
2 – When KU didn't foul, they gave up some pretty high-percentage shots, especially in the second half. Much of Oklahoma State's run that brought the Cowboys back from 10 down and eventually pushed them over the top came on the strength of free throws or buckets at the rim, a few of them real crowd pleasers that only added to OSU's ability to overcome that double-digit deficit. The Cowboys shot an incredible 64 percent in the second half after shooting just 24 percent in the first.
3 – Naadir Tharpe proved once again just how important he is to this team. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the junior has proven it almost as often with poor performances as he has with good ones. Saturday's was certainly a poor one. Tharpe's had plenty of games where he didn't shoot well but still found a way to positively impact the game with leadership, passing and, occasionally, defense. None of those were working against the Cowboys, as Tharpe finished with six points, six turnovers and five assists. He made a couple of plays, but generally looked frustrated, overwhelmed and out of sorts all night.
One thought for the road:
KU's seven-point loss at Oklahoma State:
• Gave KU the outright Big 12 regular-season title, the 10th-straight crown for the Jayhawks and the 14th in the 18-year existence of the league. Overall, Kansas has collected 57 conference titles, the most in NCAA history.
• Dropped KU to 22-7 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule, and 13-3 in Big 12 play.
• Pushed the all-time series record to 108-55 in favor of KU. The Jayhawks are now 33-32 inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
• Made Self 12-9 all-time against his alma mater (11-6 at KU), 322-66 while at Kansas and 529-171 overall.
• Made KU 2,123-819 all-time. Kentucky still leads with 2,132 all-time wins. KU ranks second and North Carolina (2,112), Duke (2,024) and Syracuse (1,900) round out the all-time top five.
The Jayhawks return home Wednesday for a rematch with Texas Tech at 8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. KU survived a scare from the Red Raiders two weeks ago in Lubbock, Texas. Before the Senior Night game, the Jayhawks will recognize Tarik Black, Niko Roberts and Justin Wesley.