Think of it this way. The Cowboys came to Lawrence with a top-10 team, great talent and the best pro prospect in OSU history. And when Smart walked out to midcourt for the opening tip, he was met by two Jayhawks likely to go higher in the NBA Draft.
Kansas freshmen Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins are ranked 1-3 on most draft lists.
The Cowboys corralled Wiggins, who had just three points and two rebounds. But the 7-foot Embiid was a beast, with a near-triple double of 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
Smart matched that with a near triple of his own — 16 points despite 3-of-14 shooting, 10 rebounds and nine assists — but the Jayhawks are so deep, they can afford off nights from one of their stars.
“I don't know a team as deep as them,” Ford said. “And they played to their strengths. They've got so many good basketball players.”
Backup KU big men Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor combined for 17 points in 28 minutes and only one missed shot. OSU's backup big men, well, don't exist, not since Cobbins' injury.
The Cowboys are forced to scrap, and scrap they did, despite trailing 47-28 in the final minute of the first half, 48-30 with 18:20 left in the game and even 77-66 with two minutes to go.
But Smart and Forte each scored six points over a span of 100 seconds, and when Mason missed a foul shot with 5.4 seconds left, OSU had a chance.
Smart rebounded the miss and, while headed out of bounds, flipped the ball to Nash.
Would have been nice if the ball had been in the hands of Brown, but he had fouled out with 3:57 left (courtesy of his second technical), or even freshman Stevie Clark (whose range and consciousness know no bounds).
But the Phog's fate gave the ball to Nash, and the grand old arena doesn't allow too many opponent heroics. So the Cowboys have to be consoled with knowing they stood toe-to-toe with a matchup that is as bad as anything they can see in March.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.