By John Helsley
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Just a few days ago, Jéan-Paul Olukemi dubbed OSU’s game with Texas as must-win.
The Cowboys lost, decisively and disappointingly.
Now it’s on to Texas Tech, where the Red Raiders are suddenly showing signs of life after an 0-4 start to conference play. They’ve won back-to-back games, including on the road at Iowa State Wednesday night.
Still, the Raiders are just 10-11 overall and 2-4 in the Big 12.
The Cowboys are just 2-4, too, in league play. And they’re 0-3 in enemy Big 12 venues.
If OSU is an NCAA Tournament contender, it must start winning games – and soon, as in Saturday.
So what does that make this matchup in Lubbock, must-must-win?
Five keys vs. Texas Tech:
1. What’s New? Cowboys coach Travis Ford promised offensive changes after Wednesday night’s shutdown by Texas. He didn’t get specific, suggesting they could either be lineup or style oriented. But Ford has few personnel options, meaning the tweaks are more likely tied to pace of play. And this team could actually thrive on the run, with slasher types at several spots. Stay tuned.
2. Maintain Focus. OSU has been hampered by ragged play just before – and after – halftime. In four of their last five games, the Cowboys have been outscored 57-8 during the minutes crossing over the two halves. Three of those games have been losses. The Pokes must maintain focus and carry it out of the locker room as well, with little wiggle room to allow teams to make a run.
3. Play Hard. In each of OSU’s road losses, Ford has found himself questioning his team’s effort. The Cowboys must be a max-effort squad to succeed. The work ethic was strong against the Longhorns, if the shooting wasn’t. As Ford said afterward – it’s a start. But only a start. They’ve also got to play better.
4. Take it to Tech. The Raiders have regrouped with the two wins. Still, they came against Nebraska and Iowa State, hardly league powerhouses. And they’ve lost four times at home, where the crowds have been sparse. The atmosphere won’t be a factor. And while Tech has a veteran team – much more was expected of them in the preseason – if the Cowboys can strike hard early, the Raiders may fade. Still, Mike Singletary and John Roberson are capable of filling up a stat sheet, so beware.
5. Free Ray Penn. Ford can get frustrated with Penn, who has a tendency to freelance and stray from the offense at times. Still, he’s this team’s best option at the point, not Keiton Page, who needs to be concentrating on firing daggers from the 3-point line. Penn’s confidence appears to be teetering on the edge, and extended bench time could push him over the edge. The Cowboys should get him involved and get his offensive game going, which would be a huge boost.