The Cowboys absorbed body blows in what was their most difficult week yet in this college basketball season.
Two emotional losses to ranked teams, likely costing them their own Top 25 status. Both winnable games, except OSU instead found ways to lose late. The team's toughness — physical and mental — revealed lacking.
Now for the first time this season, the Cowboys find themselves with a losing streak, albeit a limited one at two games.
Also for the first time, they face a bit of adversity. And it needs to be limited — and answered, to regain all the good vibes that accompanied the nonconference schedule.
So, who's in?
Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, for sure. But who else? Bueller? Bueller?
Others are needed, as we saw Saturday, when the rest of the Cowboys were present, yet unaccounted for, leaving the burden of getting out of Manhattan, Kan., with a win almost solely to Smart and Brown.
“We've got to give them more help,” Ford said. “We've got to get some help scoring the basketball. We're putting too much on those two guys.
“They're basically the only two guys who can create their own shots. But we're going to have some other guys step up.”
OSU's big men — Philip Jurick, Kamari Murphy and Michael Cobbins — combined for eight points and 12 rebounds, no match for K-State's dominance inside, leading to a 39-29 bulge on the boards. Foul trouble played a part, with Jurick and Murphy limited in minutes and aggressiveness, but the Wildcats were whistled often, too, totaling 24 fouls to the Cowboys' 18.
“We've got to keep players in the game,” Brown said. “We had Kamari sitting on the bench. We had Mike and Phil rotating, because of foul trouble. We need those guys in the game.”
Le'Bryan Nash, who was not in foul trouble, had one of those games where he was barely visible. Nash made but 2-of-7 shots from the floor, totaling six points and three rebounds with two turnovers.
Cobbins, who played 27 minutes off the bench, scored just two points on 1-of-5 shooting, as his scoring touch remains inconsistent since returning from a month off due to a fractured toe. There's hope it'll come, and none too soon, with Murphy suddenly showing some freshman flaws.
Phil Forte had a rare off day, making just 1-of-6 shots from the floor, as the Wildcats prevented his deep daggers with tight defense throughout.
Now, it's way premature for panic. OSU's losses came to No. 10 Gonzaga and at No. 25 Kansas State, a pair of games that projected as toss-ups, at best. And the latter came on the road, where few visitors emerge with wins.
There's still plenty to like about this team. The Cowboys play strong defense. They're getting premium point play from Smart, who has been the answer to two glaring needs: a floor general and a go-to guy. Brown's offseason spent on improving his shot has clearly paid off.
And OSU seems to be getting healthier, with 7-footer Marek Soucek nearly ready to return from a knee injury and Brian Williams — who was needed Saturday to clamp down on K-State's red-hot Rodney McGruder — remains on the radar to return by the end of the month.
The road to recovery seemingly begins Wednesday night, with a visit from TCU, which lost at home to struggling Texas Tech in its Big 12 opener.
Then comes OSU's next shot at addressing its road woes: Round 1 of the Bedlam series, Saturday in Norman. After that, the Cowboys play three of their next four inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
So an opportunity to rebuild momentum exists.
Saturday's loss at K-State wasn't a bad loss. It just would have been a big win, a statement win, especially at the outset of the conference schedule. And it was there for the taking, much like the Gonzaga game, except the Cowboys failed to seize control.
OSU needs to fix some things, beginning with rebounding. The common denominator in each of the Cowboys' losses: a beating on the boards. They'd benefit from smarter play, too, especially when fouls mount. And better production.
So, who's in?