STILLWATER, Okla. — In the final moments, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart stopped for a moment near the Kansas bench and started nodded his head. He clapped once, then again, savoring the moment as a group of shell-shocked Kansas Jayhawks looked on.
There was not much reaction. Just quiet. No. 5 Kansas had coughed up a 10-point second-half lead — and now they were going down inside Gallagher-Iba Arena once again.
Oklahoma State 72, Kansas 65.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, a sea of orange flooded on the court. Another court-storming in an intense road environment.
Smart had carried the Cowboys down the stretch, making the decisive plays during the final moments. And he finished with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists. For Oklahoma State, it was a statement victory in a late-season push for an NCAA Tournament berth.
But what did this loss really mean for Kansas? Maybe it hurt their resume for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe it was a confidence-tester on the first day of March. But beyond that, what did it really mean?
Back in the fall — before Smart shoved a fan at Texas Tech, and before Kansas had clinched a share of the Big 12 championship in late February — this matchup was supposed to mean something.
Kansas and Oklahoma State were co-favorites in the Big 12, and Smart and Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins were pegged as natural rivals: The reigning Big 12 player of the year versus the best freshman in America. It was Bill Self coming back to his alma mater, and ESPN’s Game Day showcase rolling into town, and well … how could this game fail?
But in the opening minutes of Saturday’s matchup, the most interesting development of the night occurred nearly 260 miles away in Manhattan, where Kansas State handled its business against Iowa State. As the Jayhawks exited the first media timeout, they had unwittingly become outright Big 12 champions.
So on the whole, Oklahoma State had more to gain on Saturday night. The Cowboys were the team on the NCAA bubble, still looking for some kind of statement victory. The Jayhawks, who dropped to 22-7 and 13-3 in the Big 12, were just trying to pad their overall resume for a No. 1 seed.
So this was the backdrop, the context for the night. Perhaps Oklahoma State was a little tight while shooting 6 of 25 from the floor in the first half. Smart made just one of his first 10 shots and clanked his first three three-pointers. Kansas, meanwhile, played a little too casual while turning the ball over 11 times in the opening 20 minutes.
Junior guard Naadir Tharpe was responsible for four of those first turnovers, and he looked a little unsettled while trying to guide the Kansas offense. The Jayhawks still managed a 26-25 lead at halftime in a game with plenty of energy and pace — but not much rhythm.
All night, it was a struggle.
Wiggins picked up his fourth foul on a Smart dribble-drive with 4:09 left in the game, and one possession later, Smart drilled a three-pointer that gave the Cowboys a 63-61 lead with 3:24 left. The Jayhawks had led 52-42, and now the lead was gone. Kansas coach Bill Self rubbed his face. A packed house inside Gallagher-Iba came to its feet during the next timeout. And Smart pushed the lead to 64-61 after drawing another foul and making one of two at the line.
But if Round 1 between Kansas and Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse had lacked a definitive duel between Smart and Wiggins, at least the final minutes provided something close.
Wiggins tied the game at 64 after hitting a jumper and drawing a foul on Smart. But for Wiggins, who finished just five of 16 from the floor, it was just a moment in another frustrating offensive performance against Oklahoma State.
From there, Smart took control. And Kansas had no answer.
The KU offense had finally heated up in the opening minutes of the second half. After hitting just one of eight from three-point range in the first half, Wayne Selden and Tharpe drained four threes as the Jayhawks built a 52-42 lead with 10:49 left.
But the Oklahoma State offense kept coming, senior guard Markel Brown kept gunning from the outside, and the Cowboys took a 60-59 lead with an 18-7 run.
Tharpe appeared to jam a finger during the run, wincing in pain as he left the floor. But moments later, he was back on the bench and re-entering the game for the stretch run.
The Jayhawks just didn’t have enough.
After falling behind 14-7 in the first nine minutes, Kansas had climbed back in front behind 8-0 run that included an emphatic follow dunk from Selden. The Jayhawks erased the deficit behind four quick points from Joel Embiid and a follow from Wiggins. When Selden grabbed a rebound off a Tharpe miss and quickly flushed it home, the Jayhawks led 15-14 with 7:49 left in the half.
The Jayhawks pushed the lead to 19-14 while Oklahoma State made just four of its first 20 from the floor. But the Jayhawks kept turning it over, and the Cowboys cut the lead to 19-18 before Wiggins drained a three-pointer.
Percentages: FG .404, FT .778. 3-Point Goals: 5-19, .263 (Tharpe 2-5, Selden, Jr. 2-6, Wiggins 1-7, Mason 0-1). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 3 (Traylor, Embiid, Ellis). Turnovers: 22 (Wiggins 6, Tharpe 6, Ellis 3, Embiid 2, Traylor 2, Black, Mason, Selden, Jr.). Steals: 7 (Embiid 3, Ellis, Mason, Traylor, Wiggins). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .426, FT .818. 3-Point Goals: 5-17, .294 (Brown 3-5, Smart 2-7, Hammonds 0-1, Forte, III 0-4). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 8 (Nash 4, Brown 2, Smart, Murphy). Turnovers: 10 (Smart 3, Brown 2, Nash 2, Forte, III, Murphy, Williams). Steals: 11 (Smart 4, Williams 3, Brown 3, Forte, III). Technical Fouls: None.
A—13,611. Officials—Joe DeRosa, Tom Eades, Pat Adams.