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.'
“I thought we had some pretty good energy over there, once the first eight minutes passed.”
Even before tip, the game shaped up as a tricky proposition for the Cowboys.
They were coming off that loss to the Jayhawks, ending a seven-game winning streak. And they were tired, to the point that Ford — in a very un-Ford-like move — barely worked them Thursday or Friday, relying heavily instead on video preparation.
It sniffed a bit like the follow-up to the Bedlam football game, when the Cowboys scuffled through a loss at Baylor their next time out.
Except these Cowboys would have none of that, instead creating a scent of satisfaction with a gritty businesslike performance.
“It was definitely a great satisfying victory,” Smart said. “We had a tough loss to KU in double-overtime, a very emotional game.
“I'm pretty sure a lot of people thought we were going to do what Kansas did when we beat them — they went into a slump. Because games like that, hard-fought games, those are definitely heartbreakers. You can lose focus.”
Instead, the Cowboys gain points for toughness, which is always a coveted asset with March creeping closer and closer.
And they stay alive in the chase for conference crown, still needing help, yet still in valid pursuit.