This has become a trend for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys find themselves way down and then have to fight their way back. OSU succeeded in its efforts against UT - San Antonio, Tulsa and Missouri State but haven't had the firepower to complete the job against higher-caliber teams like Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and then again Saturday night in the All-College Classic against the Lobos.
"We've done that a few times this season and when you play real teams like New Mexico you can't do that," senior guard Keiton Page said, who led OSU with 18 points. "We put ourselves in a hole and then we fight back, then we lost it a little bit and to beat a team like New Mexico you can't let that happen."
Easier said than done.
OSU and New Mexico both got off to cold starts and the lead went back and forth, the Cowboys even stretched the lead out to 21-15 at one point midway through the opening half.
But then New Mexico showed its resolve and its experience. The Pokes have plenty of the former but are lacking in the latter.
The Lobos slowed down their offense, collected themselves and relied on smart decision making and stifling defense until the shots started to drop. OSU, on the other hand, started to take risks, ill-advised shots, missed the easy ones and the offense seemed to disappear as players took turns trying to go one-on-one to score instead of running offensive sets.
New Mexico did exactly what needed to be done; OSU didn't. OSU's six-point advantage turned into a 10-point Lobo lead at the half.
"When you miss as many layups as we did, it puts your back up against the wall in the first half," OSU coach Travis Ford said. "Our team finds itself fighting back all the time against really good teams. We are using all of our runs to get close instead of using them to get a lead. We just can't get on the same page."
Those good runs, spearheaded by Olukemi and Page on Saturday, are for exactly that — to bring OSU back from double-digit deficits. In the midst of one of the toughest nonconference stretches in the country and with Big 12 play around the corner, the Cowboys have to find a way to buck the trend.
When OSU came back behind a scoring flurry from Page and Olukemi, who finished with 18 and 16 points, respectively, the Pokes were moving the ball well. OSU was running its offense, making smarter passes and making shots but then it unraveled after Olukemi's 3 to take a 53-52 lead. OSU was outscored 14-3 the rest of the way with all three points coming at the free-throw line.
At the point it was apparent, as Ford said, this team wasn't on the same wave length.
Page did his best after the game to explain why the drought happened.
"I think we just got away from what we were doing to get us back in the game," he said. "We had our defensive pressure up causing some turnovers and pushing the ball on offense just like they we with us in the first half. We got away from that a little bit ... we can't let that happen."
Ford even couldn't pinpoint the reason for his team's offensive collapse down the stretch.
"We made a lot of bad decisions, and they made every big play down the stretch," Ford said. "You just see the team searching right now and trying to figure everything out. We just can't get everyone on the same page. We are just struggling to score -- it's bewildering."
New Mexico is a very good team. The Lobos were the preseason pick to win the Mountain West Conference and is now on a six-game winning streak with five of their eight wins have come against major conference schools — OSU, Boston College, Washington State, USC and Arizona State.
That isn't a team the Cowboys can play 10 good minutes against and expect to beat. Neither is Alabama, OSU's next foe. The Crimson Tide are ranked No. 21 in the country.
Ford indicated that for the Cowboys to right the ship, they need to shed the "Comeback Cowboys" moniker and focus on execution and playing 40 minutes. They need to stop allowing runs like New Mexico went on of 12-0 and 14-3.
They need to focus on getting on the same page.
"I've talked a lot about what a great group of guys we have, and they are, but they have to understand that once they step across the that line it's time to get serious," Ford said. "It's not just fun and games. Some of them are still trying to figure out what this is all about."