By John Helsley
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Sitting there in JQH Arena Wednesday night, watching the Cowboys fall behind by 12 early in the second half – following a fading performance to the first half – I couldn’t help but think, ‘Here they go again.”
With a road losing streak dating back to February of 2010, it looked like just another disappointing excursion away from home.
Then something happened, giving the Cowboys and their fans reason for hope.
A team struggling to reveal an identity, revealed some fight and toughness in an enemy arena that while hardly hostile, was still energized and fully against them.
The Pokes made plays.
They made shots.
They got stops.
They made free throws!
And, again on the optimistic side, a squad heavy on freshmen and sophomores took a step toward growing up.
“It’s a huge step for us,” said senior guard and captain Keiton Page. “We know how tough it is (on the road). When you go out there and play like a team, like that, we can be really good.”
Now comes a very different challenge: No. 15 Pitt, today at 1:30 p.m., inside Madison Square Garden.
This is a game Cowboys players have anticipated in scanning a difficult nonconference schedule. Their last trip to the Big Apple didn’t go so well. They hope they’ve indeed grown in this return for an ESPN2 event.
They better have, as this figures to be their toughest test – to date, and perhaps for this entire season.
This collection of Cowboys has upside – a dangerous word.
Five thoughts on the Pokes entering into the Pitt game:
1. The roster is deep with talented pieces. And a lot of different guys contributed in the 72-67 win over Missouri State, a team picked to win the Missouri Valley Conference.
But the task for OSU coach Travis Ford remains putting those pieces together in the right combinations and finding an offensive flow that fits their skills, of which shooting and post offense are not a part of.
Ford has begun tightening his use of the roster – more on that to come in Monday’s Insider edition in The Oklahoman – and more is in order, particularly today.
2. Le’Bryan Nash, the famed freshman, may be figuring things out somewhat, although the process will take time. The Cowboys need Nash to man up, which he did at Missouri State, playing aggressively and with a toughness, giving his team scoring and rebounding down the stretch.
Finally, we’re seeing that he can be a go-to type of scorer on the offensive end. The Cowboys went to him Wednesday and he responded.
3. Philip Jurick is turning out to be a great find and addition. But he must avoid foul trouble. He’s OSU’s only real power presence in the post, able to offer some physicality. And while he should be aggressive in going for blocked shots, a great deterrent for opposing teams, he can’t help if he’s on the bench with fouls.
4. Pitt is good, really good, maybe even Final Four good. The Panthers took a tumble in the rankings when they lost at home 86-76 to Long Beach State in mid-November. Pitt has won six straight since. And the Panthers are led by a tough senior tandem of Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson. Gibbs is big-time good and he could prove troublesome for the Cowboys today. Pitt, like OSU, also has a dynamic freshman in 6-9 forward Khem Birch.
5. Winning today will be tough, extremely tough. But the Cowboys need to at least play well. The Missouri State win was a solid win on the road and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with confidence in danger of slipping and the Panthers next. That win bought the Pokes some time, win or lose in Manhattan. Still, a poor effort could surrender some of those positives.