Before practice Monday afternoon, Travis Ford was asked what would qualify as his team's “best win” in this frustrating season.
It was clearly a setup to the significance an upset of No. 2 Missouri would represent.
Ford mentally thumbed through Oklahoma State's wins, picking out the road conquest at Missouri State, home wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
“Yeah, Missouri would be it,” Ford said with a chuckle of acknowledgement at the seemingly tall task at hand for his young team.
The Cowboys produced their best effort of the season Wednesday night, rallying past the Tigers for a 79-72 win that prompted a rushing of the court inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
For a change, several Cowboys had it going, a departure from their usual hit-and-miss nature that has contributed to their offensive struggles. OSU shot 59.6 percent from the floor, easily their best shooting night so far. Two freshmen, Le'Bryan Nash and Brian Williams, combined for 49 points. And the Pokes again played the underrated solid defense that has allowed them to hang around in games, even most of their losses.
But the big key for OSU, as crazy as it may seem: Mizzou made for a favorable matchup.
It wasn't a tall task in the literal sense.
The Cowboys' biggest weaknesses are exposed against bigger teams who have out-muscled and outrebounded them at an alarming rate, especially on the offensive boards, resulting in too many second-chance points.
Mizzou starts four guards along with 6-8 forward Ricardo Ratliff filling the middle.
The Cowboys have athletes. They don't have bangers.
So the Tigers were a manageable matchup.
“Size-wise, the matchups weren't bad,” Ford said. “We weren't overly concerned about matchups, other than speed. They've got good speed.”
The Cowboys neutralized that speed, while winning the battle of the boards 32-31.
And down the stretch, they made the plays, rallying from what was an eight-point deficit in the second half.
Sure, the Tigers were probably due a letdown, playing a second straight Big 12 road game and coming off an emotional win at Baylor on Saturday.
Still, the Cowboys had to make it happen.
“Everybody came to play tonight,” said Williams, who scored a career-high 22 points. “Everybody played hard. We've been preparing for the last couple days, and the vibe's been a little different than usual, so I felt (really) good about coming into this game.”
Why the different vibe, entering Wednesday's game as an 8 1/2-point underdog on a three-game losing streak?
“I just want to say everybody's level of focus,” Williams said. “I haven't seen it like this yet, from watching film and actually going out there and simulating what they do, everybody was just real focused in.”
Senior Keiton Page started setting up comparisons to OSU's 2010 upset of No. 1 Kansas early in the week. The only Cowboy who played in that game, Page told teammates about how fun it was, pulling it off and celebrating with fans on the floor.
Afterward, how does it compare?
“It's close. This is close,” Page said. “I don't know. I'm gonna have to sleep on it. This one felt good. This felt real good.”