SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Cowboys, freshly humbled by Oregon, struggled to fully reflect on their season Thursday night.
Reactions varied, from understandable disappointment to sadness from a sudden ending to anger over their poor performance.
Then there was Le'Bryan Nash: “As soon as I leave and go back to Stillwater, I'll get in the gym and work on my shots and work on my whole game. It hurts a lot, but it also makes me hungry.”
Maybe that — a hunger for more — will emerge as the silver lining from Oklahoma State's immediate NCAA Tournament ouster after a 68-55 loss to Oregon on Thursday in San Jose, Calif.
The memory will never be pleasant.
After building wins and momentum and expectations throughout a February that featured a 7-1 month (the lone loss in double-overtime to Kansas) highlighted by a breakthrough road win against the Jayhawks, the Cowboys stumbled through March, losing three of their last five games.
And OSU's final five halves — the last 20 minutes of a nearly blown win over Baylor, then two of the lowest-scoring performances of the season in losses to Kansas State and Oregon — are hard to explain.
“Ever since the second half of the Baylor game, we went downhill,” said Marcus Smart. “We're just searching for answers.”
It's a search that will carry on for months, surely eating at the Cowboys and their coaches.
Some observers saw the late fade coming, saying they saw signs that the team might be hitting a wall of fatigue. Smart has been playing basketball nonstop since finishing his high school career, with an appearance in the McDonald's All-American Game, followed by a key role on Team USA's Under-18 squad, followed by Ford's plotted exhibition tour to Spain designed at working the freshman in as the team's new point guard and leader, followed by the demands of a Big 12 schedule that required his presence on the floor for major minutes.
And for sure, against K-State and Oregon, Smart didn't seem to possess his usual explosiveness.
Smart's 33.5 minutes per game ranks fourth in the Big 12. And the other two members of OSU's Big 3 ranked in the league's top 10 in minutes played, with Markel Brown second at 34.1 and Le'Bryan Nash ninth at 31.8.
“Guys were playing hard, we just couldn't get anything going,” Ford said after the final loss. “We've got a lot of guys playing a lot of minutes … but every team does.
“We'll go back and study it all and work on it and hopefully improve on it.”
Eventually, the Cowboys may be able to reflect on the positives of the season. The disappointment of the loss should fade.
But there's a sense that they don't want to fully forget.
Said sophomore Michael Cobbins: “We've got to let this build up in us and unleash it next year.”