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January 19, 2014

Cowboys’ slow start proves painful vs. KU

LAWRENCE, Kan. — After a poor first half in a hostile environment, the ninth-ranked Oklahoma State men’s basketball team came one shot shy of completing the comeback in Allen Fieldhouse against No. 15 Kansas.

Early fouls and poor shooting compounded with KU feeding off the home crowd put the Jayhawks ahead by 17 at halftime, before a second-half surge put the Pokes in the game late in a 80-78 loss.

“The first half, we beat ourselves — a lot of stupid plays and mental mistakes on our part,” OSU sophomore point guard Marcus Smart said after the game that included six technical fouls called. “Coming out in the first half, we played aggressive and hard. The intensity wasn’t there, so we just made sure we came out in the second half and made sure we changed that.”

The Cowboys (15-3, 3-2) had a chance to potentially tie the game or end it with Smart hauling in a rebound off a KU free throw in the final five seconds. Smart passed the ball ahead to Nash, who pulled up at the 3-point line and was stripped by freshman guard Frank Mason to prevent the shot.

“I got the rebound and I was falling out of bounds because I got hit after the free throw, so I just threw it to him,” Smart said. “In the environment, the right thing to do would be to get to the basket. You look at the clock and don’t have much time, so you have to hoist it up there. Unfortunately, they made a great play.”

The final shot attempt didn’t necessarily have to fall upon Nash, who went 5 for 11 from the field for 10 points as sophomore shooting guard Phil Forte was leaking toward the corner ahead of the play.

“He was driving right at me, so I went to the corner. My man kind of helped a little bit, so I went behind him,” Forte said. “LB tried to make the play and I think he made the right play. It’s just that Kansas made a good play. They made a game-winning play, so they get the credit.”

Oklahoma State found itself in the situation despite a plethora of problems plaguing the Pokes.

Smart, a future NBA Draft lottery pick, went 3 of 14 from the field and didn’t make his first basket until there was six minutes left in the game.

Markel Brown, who went 4 of 7 from 3-point range in the second half to finish 5 of 9 from downtown, fouled out with four minutes left in the game and OSU down by nine.

Oklahoma State had trouble getting much going in the paint with the presence of freshman center Joel Embiid — who is getting looks as the possible No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Embiid set the tone down low with eight blocked shots — topping the KU freshman record he set with seven against UTEP.

“He made a difference, there’s no question,” said OSU coach Travis Ford, whose Cowboys scored just four points in the paint in the opening 20 minutes. “He makes it a little more difficult to score in there, especially on some layups and different things when you think you might have something. He came from the weak side a couple times and made some nice blocks when we thought we had gotten in a seam.”

The Cowboys were able to climb back into the contest thanks to the outside shooting of Brown and Forte.

While Brown hit a three big shots from deep to spark OSU’s run out of the break, Forte built on it by knocking down 4 of 6 — including one with OSU trailing by four in the final 10 seconds — to finish with a career-high seven 3-pointers.

“We told our team, ‘you have to guard two guys on the perimeter.’ All they did was combine for 12 3-point makes,” KU coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t guard them well at all. (Andrew) Wiggins let Markel get comfortable.”

Oklahoma State will have it’s bye week now, not returning to the hardwood until a home contest Saturday against West Virginia.

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