Cowboys Show Resolve In Allen Fieldhouse

LAWRENCE, Kansas -- Several extracurricular skirmishes, early foul trouble, poor shooting by the Cowboys, rebounding that took great amounts of effort, and too much Kansas and Allen Fieldhouse atmosphere led to a second-half mountain way too large to climb for ninth-ranked Oklahoma State on Saturday. At least that's what everybody thought.

If you are a Kansas fan, then you might want to look up a game story or column on a Kansas website. The story in this column is that with everything going against them the Cowboys rallied in the second half, and if Le'Bryan Nash had been able to get a shot off in the last second they might have rallied for a most improbable win. Instead, Nash, who really wasn't the best option at the buzzer, fumbled with the ball and the Jayhawks held on for an 80-78 win.

To their credit, that made this a huge week for Kansas as the Jayhawks beat Iowa State on Monday, the No. 9 Cowboys on Saturday day and they get the slumping Baylor Bears on Big Monday with an opportunity to take a stronghold on the Big 12 race.

That said, the Cowboys made what should have been a snoozer into a sizzler.

In the first half, the Cowboys, light on height without Michael Cobbins and also short on depth, saw Brian Williams and Nash collect two fouls each before the first media timeout. Cowboys head coach Travis Ford learned that Marek Soucek and Leyton Hammonds aren't ready to help much in a situation like the one in Allen Fieldhouse.

The Cowboys pieced together a good first 10 minutes of the first half as Phil Forte hit a pair of threes to pace the offense and they fought and scratched on defense to hold Kansas down. The amazing thing to see was how hard it was at times for Oklahoma State to pull down a rebound. Forte pulled one down after a double tap and then a dive on the floor for the ball.

It was a tough predicament for Ford's team, and KU outscored the Cowboys 29-15 over the final 10:40 of the half. Off the bench the Jayhawks got production from Jamari Traylor, Tarik Black and projected number one NBA Draft pick seven-footer Joel Embiid.

Highly touted Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins, the object of preseason comments that had everybody ignited, didn't do much. Marcus Smart struggled as far as what you expect from Smart.

"This is an emotional game. You play it with your heart, feet, body, and all of that. It's the passion of the game; especially a game like this, as hyped up as it was. You had two teams going at it that are very good teams and very talented players, so obviously you're going to have emotions flying everywhere. But like I said that's just a mental thing on our part," Smart explained of the tough play at times and the lost composure at times with six technicals in the game and none of them on the bench or the coaches.

"We lost our cool a couple times in key moments of the game that we needed to keep our composure."

The halftime score was 47-30 Kansas.

"Going into halftime we knew that it was going to take a big effort to come back, especially on the road here," Forte said. "We just tried to take it in four-minute intervals and slowly chip away at the lead.

"We did that, we played the way that we should have come out playing the game with a lot of effort and intensity; we played as a team. I think that's what brought us back. If we played the whole game like that I think it would have been a different story," Forte added.

"In the first half we did it to ourselves, a lot of stupid plays and mental mistakes on our part," added Smart. "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."

Give Ford, Smart, Forte and the Cowboys credit as they came out in the second half ready to make a game of it. Instead of letting the Jayhawks enjoy a first-place cementing coronation, they made the full house of 16,300 sweat it.

The Cowboys started the second half doing two things that made a difference including hitting 6-of-8 to start from beyond the three-point arch.

Markel Brown came alive with several and would finish with five treys. Forte also continued to hit from out there and finished with 23 points, which accounted for all of the Cowboys' bench points. They also forced turnovers, four in the first two minutes of the half. By the 12:31 mark the KU lead was cut down to four at 57-53.

Down the stretch Smart was everything his team needed him to be as he finished with a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line. Even though his first bucket from the field didn't come until the last nine minutes of the game and the jumper off the pass from Brown made the score 69-60, Smart nearly finished with a triple double with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists.

"I wasn't that frustrated. I knew coming into this game that they were going to do everything they could in their will to not let me come out here and score," Smart said of not scoring a field goal until late in the second half.

"So I had to become a facilitator and I was finding the open guy and my teammates were hitting shots. I wasn't complaining. Everybody knows that that's my game anyway. I'm a facilitator first and I take what the defense gives me and hit the open guy and that's kind of what I tried to do when I came out here tonight."

Down by 11 at 75-64, the Cowboys made a final push. Nash's slam over Embiid had to help fuel the fire and Smart's jumper and lay in led to the Forte three with 5.7 seconds left, and KU's lead was only 79-78.

After Mason missed the second of two free throws the ball was in Nash's hand, and he was not the right guy.

"I don't think it's a moral victory. But we're going to walk out of here with our heads held high no matter what," Ford said. "We did a lot of good things, so in that aspect, there were a lot good things we did do. There's a lot of things we've got to do better at. We were down 17 at half. So there are some things we've got to do better. I'm disappointed we lost, (but) we had the ball in our hands."

Oklahoma State now has a week to think about it, and at 15-3 overall and 3-2 in Big 12 play the Cowboys have a comeback to make in the standings now.

However, as OSU play-by-play voice Dave Hunziker told his radio audience, despite every disadvantage that took place, including the three technical fouls (including the one called by Big 12 referee John Higgins that fouled Markel Brown out of game at the three-minute mark), the Cowboys will see the Jayhawks again on March 1 in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

In this case, payback, as the saying goes, needs to be a beach.

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