STILLWATER — Marcus Smart flexed. Le’Bryan Nash fist pumped. Markel Brown crowd surfed.
Quite a scene in Stillwater.
On a night when newly crowned conference champion Kansas came to town and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and darn near half of their Thunder teammates sat courtside, it was Oklahoma State that put on the show. The Cowboys rallied and surged and not only kept alive their NCAA Tournament hopes alive but also put future foes on notice.
OSU 72, KU 65.
This team will have to be reckoned with.
After all the drama of this season, the injury to Michael Cobbins, the dismissal of Stevie Clark, the suspension of Smart, the Cowboys find themselves in a spot where many thought they would be. They are coming together at the end of the regular season. They are charging into March.
They didn’t get here the way everyone thought they would, but still, here they are.
The NCAA Tournament awaits.
Bracketologists might say these Cowboys are still a bubble team, maybe even among the first few teams out, but after beating the Jayhawks, at least one college basketball insider doesn’t need any more convincing of the Cowboys’ tournament worthiness.
“Yeah,” Kansas coach Bill Self said when asked if OSU is a tournament team. “These guys are really talented. They can get really hot and make a serious run, there’s no question.”
Work remains, of course. OSU plays Kansas State at home Monday and Iowa State on the road Saturday. Win both, and the Cowboys will be .500 in conference play, will have a great non-conference resume to go along with that and will be in the NCAA Tournament. Win one of the next two, and they probably need to win a game or two at the Big 12 Tournament just to make sure of their NCAA fate.
But this win against the Jayhawks is a big blue feather in the Cowboys’ cap. The way Kansas has been playing of late, it had an outside shot at a No. 1 seed.
This team showed that it could be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. A lot depends on matchups. If the Cowboys find themselves against a team with a massive frontline, that could be a problem, but the number of college teams with a bunch of bigs is small. Kansas is one of the few.
And look what OSU did to it.
Saturday night showed that the Cowboys can beat teams with talent bigs — Jayhawk freshman Joel Embiid is a handful; the Cowboys held him to 13 points and 13 rebounds — but clearly, it would be a stroke of luck for OSU if it could draw a couple of teams with less-formidable front lines. After all, no one has any more talent in the backcourt than OSU.