Cowboys Come Up Short Against Jayhawks

Kansas has never lost its first game of the Big 12 Tournament. That almost changed Thursday when Oklahoma State came within a possession of upsetting No 2 Kansas – and possibly earning an NCAA Tournament at-large bid – only to see Jean-Paul Olukemi's last second shot come up short as the Jayhawks held on for a 63-62 victory in a Big 12 quarterfinal tourney game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

The Cowboys fall to 19-13 and will learn their postseason fate Sunday evening when they are expected to be one of the 32 teams selected to participate in the National Invitation Tournament. The NIT selection show is scheduled for 8 p.m. Sunday (Central time) on ESPNU.

"We win this game and we're in the NCAA Tournament," Cowboys head coach Travis Ford said in his postgame news conference. "We were a good basketball team today. We haven't shown that all year long and that's been the challenge of this basketball team, and it's been the greatest challenge for me trying to get it out of these guys.

"I'm disappointed for our players. I'm very disappointed for them that they didn't get the win. I think Kansas is the best team in America and for a team to have played the way we've played this year and to be able to play like that (today) it's disappointing not to get the win."

Oklahoma State did not look like the same team that lost 92-65 to Kansas just 17 days ago in Lawrence, Kan.

It was the fifth time in the Cowboys' last seven games that the outcome came down to the last possession, including Wednesday's 53-52 victory over Nebraska in a first-round tournament game. OSU also defeated Texas Tech (70-68) but lost close games to Texas A&M (67-66), Oklahoma (64-61) and against the Jayhawks on Thursday.

The Cowboys called a timeout with 20 seconds remaining and down by one point after gaining possession of the basketball on a Kansas shot-clock violation. But Reger Dowell lost control of his dribble and had to pass to Olukemi who threw up a 30-foot prayer that was not close as time expired.

"On the last play of the game we had a bunch of guys in there who they could switch off on, and we knew that were going to switch every screen ... so we wanted to try to create a lot of spacing, which we didn't do," said Ford.

"We talked about trying to get to the rim and draw help because Kansas is a great helping team, and getting a foul or kicking it to the open man for an open shot. We just got caught fumbling the ball around and after that it was ... but you know we were the benefit of it last night against Nebraska."

Keiton Page and Jean-Paul Olukemi were two of the main reasons the Cowboys had a chance to win it on the game's last possession.

The 5-9 Page finished with eight points while making just 2 of 11 shots in the 27-point loss to the Jayhawks on Feb. 21, and Olukemi was held scoreless while attempting just three shots.

But Page and Olukemi combined for 40 points against Kansas in the Big 12 tourney. Page finished with a game-best 23 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field while making all nine of his free throws, and Olukemi contributed 17 points as he made 8 of 10 from the charity stripe.

"We didn't do a bad job on (Keiton) and he gets 23 (points) on 12 shots. I mean, he's good," Kansas head coach Bill Self said. "The one thing you have to do on him is you have to keep him off the free-throw line ... you've got to take away threes and keep him off the free-throw line.

"We actually did a decent job. He scored six points to start the game off of poor defensive plays and kind of got their team going a little bit. But we didn't defend him poorly. I thought Elijah (Johnson) and Tyshaun (Taylor) actually did a decent job. Fortunately for us (on the Cowboys' last possession), the ball did not come back to him, and the ball stayed on the other side of the floor."

The Cowboys only had nine players available with the recent suspension of Darrell Williams and departure from the team of Ray Penn, and three of those players fouled out (Jarred Shaw, Matt Pilgrim and Marshall Moses).

"We had to play a lot of minutes without Matt and we had to play a lot of minutes with Marshall with four (fouls). We were losing big men left and right, and we were almost running out of options. Luckily J-P played a little bit of four this year," said Ford. "It (hurt us) more offensively than defensively. No question it hurt us. You get out of your element. We had five guys out there (at the end) who I don't know if they've played together all year long.

"I thought we were a good team today. I thought we were a team that didn't just show up and play good, but a good team today. We're outmatched in a lot of areas against Kansas and I was really, really concerned if we'd have anything left after yesterday (against Nebraska), and we did. We showed some fight. We forced Kansas into doing some things that we wanted them to do. It wasn't that they just played bad. We were a good basketball team today," Ford added.

Olukemi added, "We went down there (to Lawrence) and took a hard beating and we knew today we weren't going to lay down. It wasn't going to be a round two of that. We know how big this game could have been for us. We just wanted to let them know we weren't going to lay down here."

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