KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Cowboys produced a stinker Friday night.
Their first since a road loss in Waco back in January, yet a stinker just the same: 68-57 to No. 11 Kansas State in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament.
The unsavory smell involved a season-worst 30.5 percent shooting night and 14 turnovers and little energy.
“We didn't play so good,” said Cowboys captain Markel Brown, who failed to score in the first half and finished with just eight points. “We struggled from the start.”
And kept struggling.
Clearly, No. 14 Oklahoma State must regroup before next week's NCAA Tournament.
And maybe not just from this disappointing loss, but maybe physically, too.
The Cowboys, now 24-8, wouldn't bite on any talk of being tired, although the buzz around the program in recent days — and their play — suggested it to be a factor.
The Wildcats said they sensed it and seized on it.
“We saw they were tired by the end of the first half,” said K-State point guard Angel Rodriguez. “So the beauty of our team is we're deep and a lot of people can play for us and help us, and that's what we did.
“We rotated our line and we got out in transition. And pretty much every time we went into transition, something positive happened. So that was the biggest key.”
The Wildcats pushed the ball late in the first half to emerge from their own shooting struggles, going from 17-12 down into the lead at 28-23 by halftime. In the second half, they extended the lead to as much as 15 and never really seemed threatened by OSU's occasional rallies.
OSU's fade actually started late Thursday night, when the Cowboys blew a 20-point lead against Baylor and found themselves hanging on at the final buzzer.
That's how the K-State coaches saw it.
“I don't think there's any doubt,” said Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber, “we watched — at least the coaches watched in person last night the second half — and really thought they were getting a little tired even in the Baylor game.”
There's evidence in the poor shooting, with air balls and other short shots. The Cowboys regularly failed to finish at the rim.
And as Rodriguez said, the Wildcats consistently created freedom on the break.
“We still came out and played hard,” said OSU guard Marcus Smart, who scored a team-high 18 points. “It wasn't much fatigue …”
Like Brown, Le'Bryan Nash was saddled with early foul trouble and didn't score in the first half, before rallying late to finish with 11. No other Cowboy managed more than eight. And only Philip Jurick, who sat much of the game, was the only player to shoot better than .500 from the field with a 2-for-3 night.
Maybe that's a silver lining in K-State's story. If the Cowboys are showing signs of wear and tear, having Saturday off at least gives them another day to recover.
Then Sunday, when OSU returns to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time in three years, there should be a boost in the announcement of where they're headed and who awaits.
“Right now, I'm not too excited, because we just lost,” Brown said. “But it's a great time to be playing. We'll get back, have a nice cooked meal waiting for us and watch the Sunday selection.”