STILLWATER – Finally, OSU basketball can breathe a little. Travis Ford just hopes his Cowboys don’t do it.
A desperate team a mere two weeks ago, OSU suddenly is playing like the team everyone figured it would all season. The Cowboys popped Kansas State 77-61 Monday night to officially announce their resurrection.
A season once on its death bed is breathing on its own and headed to the NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys raised their winning streak to four and their March Madness stock to well above bubble level.
“Whenever you can kind of, I wouldn’t say be a lock, but there is a weight lifted off your shoulders,” said Phil Forte, who tossed in a game-high 23 points. “There’s been a lot of stress going on this past month with the losing streak and everything. But things are starting to click now. We’re starting to play better basketball.”
But Ford’s message was clear and sound. Just because the shine is back is no reason to lose the edge that lifted the Cowboys from despair.
“We’re in, I think, but … we don’t need to exhale,” Ford said. “We need to keep playing with a sense of urgency and understand what makes our team good. We got away from that.”
But now the Cowboys are back, with a sweep of Kansas and Kansas State in a 50-hour period, and while both were at Gallagher-Iba Arena, their beloved arena is also where OSU lost to Baylor and Iowa State even before Marcus Smart’s three-game suspension. So OSU indeed is playing much better than at any time since December.
“As crazy and amazing as the stretch we went through with the seven-game losing streak, the last four games is just as amazing,” Ford said.
Speaking of exhaling, Cowboy fans could do that early in the second half. OSU seemed in control of the Wildcats much of the game, but the way this season has gone, no one with a smidge of orange took anything for granted. Early second half, the game had tightened. Peril had returned.
Then Smart reached around and poked the ball from Kansas State’s Shane Southwell and took it coast-to-coast for a layup. On the ensuing possession, Forte intercepted a Southwell pass, wheeled around and went all the way for yet another basket. Suddenly, the Cowboys had an eight-point lead and never were in serious danger again.