FORT WORTH - Taking care of business in college basketball is a challenge when a team faces a road game late in the season. The degree of difficulty increases if the visiting team is ranked and pondering NCAA Tournament seeds and the home team is waiting to put away the uniforms.
As Oklahoma State visited TCU Thursday night, the business ticker listed No. 4 Michigan playing at Penn State, a team that was 0-14 in the Big Ten Conference. The Nittany Lions pulled the upset, giving the Wolverines a loss that will impact its NCAA seeding and its chances of winning a league title.
The Cowboys made sure they didn't compete for headlines on SportsCenter. And they had a great example to follow. How often did coach Travis Ford reminded his players that Kansas lost at TCU in an outcome as stunning as any in recent memory.
"Every second," Le'Bryan Nash said.
"A lot," Phil Forte said. "Any time you go on the road in the Big 12, anything's possible. TCU beating Kansas, that had our attention. We knew they were capable of beating us."
No. 15 Oklahoma State got a career-high 28 points from Nash to efficiently dispose of Game No. 27 on the schedule, beating the Horned Frogs, 64-47. Nash made 12 of 16 shots, helping the Cowboys (21-6, 11-4) to shoot 55.1 percent from the field. Oklahoma State remains a game behind Big 12 leaders Kansas and Kansas State.
"We're glad to get a win, a road win," Ford said. "We needed to be locked in to get our 21st win. That's what we were here for. If you're not ready to play and focused ... I heard Penn State beat Michigan. These games can jump up and bite you."
Ford bemoaned the fact that his team played in spurts. That was the same description used by TCU coach Trent Johnson. The Horned Frogs (10-18, 1-14) were just 15-of-55 from the field (27.3 percent). Kyan Anderson led TCU with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting but he could sue for non-support; his teammates missed 34 of their 43 attempts.
"I was surprised we didn't give 'em more of a fight," Anderson said. "We were intense before the game but defensively, offensively we just didn't get it done. At the end of the first half, we got away from what we're supposed to be doing on offense."
Anderson's 3-pointer cut Oklahoma State's lead to 24-20 with 6:38 remaining in the first half. Until Anderson made another three with 14:33 to play, TCU scored just four points. That 12-minute drought allowed the Cowboys to build a 20-point lead that turned the second half into a clock-watching contest.
"They're as versatile a team as there is in the Big 12," Johnson said. "They can play fast, they can play slow. I thought we got great shots, open shots. But we put so much pressure on our defense when we miss shots."
Over the final five minutes of the first half when Oklahoma State's defense went into lock-down mode, the Cowboys' five were Nash, Michael Cobbins, Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Brian Williams. A sophomore who missed the first 19 games with a broken wrist, Williams played in his eighth game and is starting to find his rhythm.
"It's really good, really good defensively," Ford said of the trio. "Brian Williams is our best perimeter defender. He brings us great energy and he gets further along every game."
Indeed. Williams is 6-5, Smart is 6-4 and Brown is 6-3. In addition to size, all three are quick and strong. Smart, who leads the team in steals and had three against TCU, agrees with his coach about Williams' defensive abilities.
"He's quick with his feet, he's got quick hands," Smart said. "We have that group in, that's a great defensive group. We've got Michael (Cobbins) back there defending the rim. ... Brian wasn't even supposed to be here, he's back before he was supposed to be. It's a blessing to have him back on the court."
Ford said that TCU's defensive strategy was to lock down the Oklahoma State guards. That gave Nash room to operate. Three times he scored on consecutive possessions and he scored on three straight trips to give Oklahoma State a 44-24 lead with 16:34 remaining. The third basket on that sequence was a dunk set up by a no-look pass from Smart.
"We knew they weren't great shot blockers," Nash said. "We tried to get to the lane and get to the bucket. My teammates saw how I was going and they got me the ball. We've all got a winning attitude.
"It was a good win, that's the most important thing. We got a good 'W' on the road."