STILLWATER, Okla. - About 8:15 p.m., the score up North in Manhattan, Kan., became final. Kansas State’s victory over Iowa State changed the meaning of the prime time contest between Kansas and Oklahoma State.
Before the Jayhawks-Cowboys game was over, KU already had clinched the No. 1 seed in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Championship (thanks to Oklahoma’s victory over Texas) and the Cyclones’ loss meant that Kansas had clinched the outright regular-season championship.
Inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, celebrating its 75th anniversary, all that mattered was winning. The fifth-ranked Jayhawks certainly played as if the game meant everything. Only it meant more to the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State continued its recovery from a seven-game losing streak with a resolute 72-65 victory over Kansas. The Cowboys (19-10, 7-9) have won three in a row since sophomore guard Marcus Smart returned from a three-game suspension.
"To me, we missed our opportunity to celebrate," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "What's frustrating to me is we had the game where we wanted it and then we didn't make competitive plays down the stretch to give us the best chance to win."
And Smart exerted himself and helped will Oklahoma State to the victory. He scored 20 of his 21 points in the second half while senior Markel Brown scored 21 on just seven shots, hitting all 10 of his free throw attempts. Andrew Wiggins had 15 to lead Kansas, which shot 40 percent.
"Our focus was different tonight,” said Smart, who is averaging seven assists in the three games since his return. “Losing those seven-straight games opened our eyes to a lot of things, with a majority of those being not closing out a lot of those games. We were extra-focused tonight.”
There was a lot of star power in the crowd of 13,611 to notice that focus. as Kevin Durant (who also caught most of the Texas-Oklahoma game in Norman earlier in the day), Russell Westbrook, Perry Jones, Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison and coach Scott Brooks from the Oklahoma City Thunder along with former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton and Bryant “Big Country” Reeves all attended.
None of the celebs joined the court storming celebration.
"You can't measure what they did for us,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “They were incredible. It had a lot to do with the victory. When you have a crowd like that that's really into the game, it makes a difference. They were dying for something good to happen, and I told the guys to give them something to cheer about.”
The Cowboys were missing seven out of 10 shots and when Kansas took a 52-42 lead with 10:51 to play. The Jayhawks (22-7, 13-3) were dominating the boards and a comeback by the home team appeared unlikely.
But after Smart missed an ill-advised 3-pointer, he came up with a steal – one of 22 Kansas turnovers – that resulted in a Le’Bryan Nash three-point play. Smart then found Markel Brown with a lob for a high-flying dunk.
Wiggins’ three-point play with 2:03 left tied it at 6-4 but the Jayhawks missed their last four field goals as the Cowboys closed with an 8-1 run.
“They played really hard and competed really hard the last 10 minutes or so,” Self said. “I thought they did a good job guarding us, don’t get me wrong, but most of our turnovers I think were more self-inflicted than them pressuring us into making mistakes.”
After it went up by 10, Kansas had 11 possessions and six of those resulted in turnovers. The Jayhawks’ sloppiness kept them from taking advantage of their defense, which limited the Cowboys to 6-for-25 shooting in the first half.“This is a team that never gives up, even if we're down 20,” Brown said. “We're going to always fight, we're going to always have each other's backs and we're always going to go out there and give it our all. That's what we are capable of doing every night. We were just poised out there on the court, and we took advantage of all the mistakes that Kansas made."