After beating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse last season, and after Marcus Smart left a lasting impression with a celebratory backflip, Oklahoma State nearly pulled off the feat again.
This time, the Cowboys couldn’t quite make it all the way back.
Le’Bryan Nash had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but he was stripped by the Jayhawks’ Frank Mason as he went up for the shot near the 3-point line, allowing the 15th-ranked Jayhawks to hold on for an 80-78 victory over the ninth-ranked Cowboys on Saturday.
“Down two (Nash) was trying to get to the basket,” Smart said. “He looked up at the clock and realized he didn’t have much time so he had to hoist it up there.”
Smart’s layup with 24 seconds remaining had gotten Oklahoma State within 79-75, and after Mason missed a free throw, Phil Forte hit a 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game.
Mason was fouled and made the first of two free throws, and the Cowboys raced up court with the rebound on the miss. But the potential winning shot never made it toward the rim.
“I don’t think it’s a moral victory,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said, “but we’ll walk out of here with our heads held high, no matter what.”
Naadir Tharpe scored 21 points to lead the Jayhawks (13-4, 4-0 Big 12) while Joel Embiid added 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks.
Forte hit seven 3-pointers and finished with 21 points for Oklahoma State (15-3, 3-2). Smart added 16 points, but he was just 3 of 14 from the field and 0 for 6 from the 3-point arc.
“I knew coming into this game they were going to try to do everything in their will not to let me come out and score,” Smart said. “So I had to become a facilitator.”
Markel Brown finished with 15 points for Oklahoma State, but he also received two of the six technical fouls handed out in the game. He wound up fouling out in the closing minutes.
The animosity between the teams really started to simmer last season, when the Cowboys came into Allen Fieldhouse and ended the Jayhawks’ 33-game home win streak. Smart celebrated by doing a backflip, a stunt captured on film that Kansas coach Bill Self showed his team this week.
It reached a rolling boil shortly before the season, when Smart declared that Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins had yet to warrant the considerable hype that the star freshman had been receiving.
Naturally, most figured that Smart and Wiggins would be the leading characters when their teams met. Instead, they were relegated to supporting roles — Wiggins scored just three points.
“I don’t know of a team that’s more talented in the country as deep as they are,” Ford said. “We just let them play to their strengths.”
Tarik Black took the spotlight first, fueling a 13-0 run for Kansas midway through the first half. The backup forward’s basket for a 29-15 lead left a sellout crowd that included Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers roaring its approval.
In fact, the noise was so deafening that Brown didn’t hear Ford call a timeout. He instead raced up court and found himself in the midst of the Kansas huddle, triggering a benches-clearing fracas that the officials had to separate.
Brown and the Jayhawks’ Jamari Traylor were each hit with technical fouls.
Things didn’t cool off, either. Later in the half, Smart was hammered by Wayne Selden on his way to the rim. Selden was shoved by the Cowboys’ Stevie Clark, drawing another technical.
The Cowboys tried to mount a comeback on the second half. Forte got hot from behind the arc, and Brown hit four 3-pointers in the span of a few minutes to make it 59-56 with 11:02 left.
Kansas stoically answered the challenge.
Mason’s 3-pointer triggered seven straight points by the Jayhawks, and when Smart finally hit his first field goal with 5:53 left, Embiid answered with a thunderous jam.
As the Jayhawks slowly rebuilt their lead, Oklahoma State began to lose its poise. Brown was whistled for a foul on Embiid, and voiced his frustration within earshot of official John Higgins, earning his second technical of the game and a seat on the bench.
The Cowboys got within 77-73 on a basket by Smart with 1:29 left, but Tharpe answered again with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The Jayhawks then held on in the closing seconds to put some distance on one of its biggest threats in the Big 12 race.