Oklahoma State got punched in the mouth in the 1st half against the Kansas Jayhawks, but despite being down 17 points, were able to front a huge comeback. Unfortunately they Cowboys were unable to complete the comeback as they fell to the Jayhawks in the closing seconds 78-80. The matchup that everyone was looking forward to in the Big XII lived up to its expectations and I'm sure has everyone looking forward to the rematch down the road, but this game brought a lot to the table to discuss.
• It's so easy to put the blame on the refs regarding the outcome of this game (I'll get to them in a bit), but calls, no-calls aside it wasn't as if OSU played a perfect game. Marcus Smart for the most part had an all-around good game. His stat line for the day was 16 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals. He led the Cowboys in all those categories except for points. The only problem for Smart was 10 of his 16 points came off free throws and he shot 3-14 from the field, including 0-6 from 3-point range. The fact that he can shoot 21.4% and still have one of the most productive games out of everyone is incredible to me, but if he shoots better in this game, the Cowboys could have won this won by a comfortable margin. Smart's shooting wasn't the only problem for OSU though. Their lack of depth really showed how much of a problem it will be for them this season. The Jayhawks outscored the Cowboy bench 28-23, but the big story about that stat is all 23 bench points came from Phil Forte for the Cowboys. Other than a couple of assists by Stevie Clark and a block and rebound by Marek Soucek, that was all the bench had to offer for the Cowboys. Foul trouble would be the biggest problem of them all for OSU. Le'Bryan Nash and Brian Williams were in foul trouble early and the Jayhawks took full advantage of OSU's foul trouble in the 1st half. These are just some of the big issues that stuck out to me in this game. Before you start pointing fingers at the refs, you have to take in to consideration of what OSU could have done better as team and there were a lot of things they could have done better to wins this one.
• Regarding the refs. Let me start by saying I have never been one to blame the refereeing of any sporting event for the outcome of a game. I will agree that there are cases of bad reffing that puts one team in a worse situation than the other, but players for the most part have the power to determine the outcome of the game. That being said the refs today were completely lost all game long. Did KU get more favorable calls than OSU? Probably, but in general they were just bad for both teams and really put a damper on a great game (or more like a great 2nd half). I've watched basketball for as long as I can remember and played with a competitive team up until high school and never in my life have I heard of a "double foul" call in the game of basketball. Obviously it is a real thing and the refs wouldn't just make a call up on the spot (hopefully), but from what I looked up on the ruling and what I saw from watching other instances of double fouls being call, it can be summed up as two refs making the opposite call and then having no idea on what the correct call should be, so they just give both players a foul.
The double foul was tip of the iceberg though. They missed a lot of calls (Embiid stepping out of bounds before he shot and his goaltending block through the basket) and the refs allowed a lot of chatter to happen among players. We will never know what Markel Brown said after he picked up his 4th foul, but watching the game on TV, he was T'd up so fast it looked like he wouldn't even had time to say anything to the ref. I feel like the refs had had enough of the physical fouls and extra activity from the players today that Brown's reaction was just the last straw for the referees. My overall point is that reffing like what we saw is what is ruining college basketball. I've heard the "well they need time to adjust to the new rules" excuse, but this is not even about the new rules anymore. For a while now the Big XII officiating has been downright bad and something needs to be done about it. Regardless of the outcome in the rematch between these two teams in March, I really hope we get to see a great game without any poor officiating to potentially ruin it for everyone.
• I've been holding off on this one for as long as I can, but let's talk about Marcus Smart's flopping. I am by no means a fan of him flopping and I think that's because he's such a talented basketball player that he shouldn't have to result to such frowned upon tactics like flopping. But is the issue that Smart gets away with flopping, or that the officiating crew allows him to do so? I personally don't think Smart is very good actor. 90% of his flops to me are painfully obvious that it was a flop, yet the officiating crews seem to be tricked by it almost every time. The other 10% of his flops come from situations where it's really hard to tell from a first look (like him getting "elbowed" in the face by Wayne Selden Jr). The majority of his flops you can clearly see in his body language that he will oversell the contact when he jerks his body and flies across the court. And if he's so good at getting away with flopping, can you really blame him for doing it so much? Sure it's not "respectable" to some people, but I think when it comes to flopping, it is a case of "don't hate they player, hate the game."
• How good was Forte today? He went an impressive 7-10 from 3-point range tonight (Kansas had 7 3-pointers total) and was a huge reason why the Cowboys stayed in this game despite being down at 17 at the half. He was sinking 3s from NBA range, and I about almost went nuts when came close to making that 3 pointer from almost half court with the shot clock running down. After today's game Forte is shooting 50.0% on the year from 3-point range. That is insane! There may not be much to Forte's game, but he has to be one of biggest momentum swingers in the country with his ability to shoot the 3-ball so well. He also had a couple of assist on night, but more impressively he had 5 rebounds to go along with his stats, the 2nd most on the team. OSU's bench is definitely lacking and for him to be able to step and make an impact in more ways than just scoring will be huge for the Cowboys.
• Offensively Kamari Murphy had an okay game if you look at what he had to go up against, but he was nowhere to be found on the glass for the Cowboys in this one. He finished with just one defensive rebound for OSU which isn't going to cut it if you're going to be the starting big man for them. OSU didn't win the rebounding battle, which shouldn't be expected, but they kept it competitive and only allowed 8 offensive rebounds in this game. Other than Joel Embiid, KU didn't really have that many threats attacking the boards. If 5'11 Phil Forte can grab 4 defensive boards and an offensive board, then Murphy should be able to get more than just 1 rebound when he's on the court for 38 minutes.
• Although OSU only had 16 shot attempts on the day, the Cowboys shot 87.5% from the free throw line, the highest percentage they have shot all season long. Who would have thought playing in one of the most hostile environments is what OSU needed to be more consistent at the free throw line? I'll be interested to see if this was a fluke or if they're beginning to find a rhythm at the free throw line.
• After the game was over I thought about the outcome for a while and I'm still baffled how despite being down big and having to deal with foul trouble all game long, OSU was able to keep it competitive and had an opportunity to be the Jayhawks at the buzzer. I know some people are not big on moral victories, but you really have to be impressed with how OSU handled the gaming coming out of the half. The 1st half was absolutely rough to watch if you were an OSU fan. The last few minutes of the half were just awful and even though they were down by 17, it definitely felt like 30. Yet the Cowboys regrouped during the half and exploded out of the gate to get back into the game. Their half court trapping was a big part of their huge comeback. For a team that has so many talented players, I've never seen a team look so lost and confused than KU did when OSU came out with their pressure D. Although they came up short in the end, you have to tip your hat to the Cowboys for never giving up and making a furious comeback. Compared their 2nd half performance against KU to Kansas State's A week ago Kansas State was also down by 17 at the half against Kansas and they just laid down for them, losing by 26 points in Lawrence. Oklahoma State was down by 17 and despite all their foul trouble and all their issues with their depth this season, almost came back and won this game. To me that proved that this team is capable of beating just about anyone in the country this year despite some of their issues, and even though they are two games back from 1st, the Big XII title race is far from over. They will get another shot at KU in March and if we're all lucky, we will get to see a potential rubber match in the Big XII Tournament. It was a tough loss, but the Cowboys will bounce back and be ready for West Virginia in a week.
Oklahoma State falls to 15-3 on the year and 3-2 in the conference while the Jayhawks improve to 13-4 and remain the only unbeaten team in conference play at 4-0. The Cowboys will take on West Virginia next Saturday in Stillwater while Kansas will host the Baylor Bears Monday night.