Travis Ford tried not to make a big deal out of his team's trip to West Virginia.
Tried to keep it routine, albeit without much luck.
So Saturday's visit to Morgantown, the program's first, created much stress for Ford, who like most coaches stresses enough without any added challenges. But a visit into the unknown, following an emotionally and physically draining midweek loss to Kansas, along with the fatigue of three overtime periods in the span of eight days — that put Ford on edge.
And that was before Marcus Smart took a seat just 2:34 into the game, having just picked up a third foul that would nail him to the bench for the remainder of the first half.
Yet that's where the team's character came through.
The Cowboys absorbed that initial shock, then recovered to carry a lead to halftime, even without their floor general, spiritual leader and Big 12 Player of the Year candidate. Then they ran away in the second half, with Smart back doing his thing, and OSU pulling through.
The victory marked two significant win figures: 20 overall and 10 in the Big 12, the latter a new high for the Ford era, with four regular-season games to go.
“Very tough spot,” Markel Brown said of losing Smart so early. “Got our guys a little bit rattled.
“But we took our time with it after that. It's nothing we haven't been through before. Once Marcus got on the bench, we knew we had to step it up.”
Brown did. And Le'Bryan Nash did. And Michael Cobbins, Brian Williams, Philip Jurick, Kirby Gardner and Phil Forte, too, all contributing in some way to make for a defining team win that may have revealed something special about these Cowboys.
“You could hear guys over on the sideline being positive,” Ford said. “I was yelling at the officials, but Marcus was over there with three fouls, and he's telling guys, ‘Hey, keep fighting. Keep fighting.'