STILLWATER — Finally, the Cowboys can join the chatter that's been taking place among their fans for, oh, several weeks now.
No. 24-ranked Oklahoma State finished off a five-game run against overmatched opponents Saturday, taking out Tennessee Tech 78-42 before an estimated 4,000 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Next up: the No. 14 Zags, who have been on the mind of everyone from Boone Pickens to Cowboys fans everywhere — those who have shown up for a series of double-digit routs and those who have been waiting for better foes and bigger games.
They’ve been in the thoughts of the Cowboys, too, although until now they couldn't publicly admit it.
“It's been in the back of our minds ever since the Boone Pickens thing, when he bought the tickets,” said OSU freshman guard Phil Forte, referencing Pickens' purchase of 4,000 tickets that were distributed free to fans.
“There's a big buzz going on for the game with our fans. We just tried to stay focused and worry about the three games this week. Now that it's over, we can worry about the big one New Year's Eve.”
The wait continues for just a bit longer, as the Cowboys take a holiday break before returning for the much-anticipated meeting with Gonzaga.
But at least it's on deck, following Saturday's romp, which was over early and ran OSU's winning streak to five and its record to 10-1 with a 38-point margin of victory that ranks as the program's largest in five years.
The Cowboys, who led 26-6, got career-highs in points from reserves Forte (22) and Kirby Gardner (10), who joined Kamari Murphy (12), Markel Brown (11) and Marcus Smart (11) in double-figure scoring.
Continuing a trend of stout defense, OSU forced 20 turnovers, featuring 11 steals, and held Tennessee Tech to 38.5 percent shooting.
“A lot of positives,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “From beginning to end, I was just really pleased.
“We rebounded the ball. We passed the ball. Everyone got to play. We showed some unselfishness. Our offense was better than it's been. It just seems to get a little bit better.”
Even Ford seemed relieved to be able to look ahead with anticipation, although he said this series of five wins averaging a victory margin of 24.6 — over South Florida, Missouri State, Central Arkansas, UT Arlington and Tennessee Tech — served the Cowboys well.
“The last five games have been good, because we've had stretches where we could learn,” Ford said. “That's good. And we used it.” Against Gonzaga, they'll get to put what they've learned to the test.
The Bulldogs (11-1) have already popped three Big 12 squads, romping past West Virginia 84-50, Oklahoma 72-47 and Kansas State 68-52. And they play Baylor in Spokane on Friday.
“There will be two Top 25 teams playing in here,” Ford said. “And it's been a while since that's happened nonconference wise. Hopefully we'll get some fan support — we're going to need it. Hopefully it'll be a difference-maker.
“We understand, this is a team that could compete at the top of the Big 12, so it's a big challenge for us.”