AMES, Iowa — OklahomaState’s difficult week took on a sense of urgency Wednesday night.
Looking to stay in the hunt for a share of a Big 12 Conference championship, the No. 13 Cowboys instead absorbed an 87-76 loss at IowaState, leaving them locked into third place in the league race.
Returning home for a Saturday date with No. 9 Kansas State, OSU may now need a win to avoid sharing third place.
And such a tie – with rival Oklahoma – would be way worse than any sisterly smooch.
Beyond that scenario, however, the Cowboys simply don’t want to limp to the finish.
“We want to finish out strong,” said OSU captain Markel Brown. “We don’t want to end on a bad note.
“In this league, every game is a big game. We’ll move on and play KansasState and give it all we’ve got. We’re still trying to get wins.”
To their credit, the Cowboys kept trying Wednesday night, even when it looked like such a lost cause.
The Cyclones, tied for the best home record in the Big 12 at 8-1, were playing before an emotionally charged sellout crowd on a Senior Night that featured six players in their final appearance at Hilton Coliseum.
Iowa State rode that emotion to an early 15-point lead and never trailed, yet had to fend off an OSU rally that made it a one-possession game three times in the final 6 1/2 minutes.
With Marcus Smart willing a comeback, scoring 16 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, the Cowboys got it to 67-64 at the 6:21 mark, 69-66 with 5:24 remaining and then 70-68 with 4:28 to play.
But the Cyclones kept knocking them back, either at the foul line – where they finished 26-of-35 – or on clutch baskets.
“I kept thinking, ‘If we get over this hump, maybe we can control the game a little bit better. We can control it with our offense,’” said OSU coach Travis Ford. “But we never could get over the hump.
“But give IowaState credit. They played very possessed to get a win. They were very good.”
The Cowboys, meanwhile, were not so good, especially early, when they fell behind 30-15 at the 7:22 mark of the first half. They trailed 39-29 at intermission and worked uphill throughout the final 20 minutes.