MANHATTAN, Kan. — The Cowboys knew they faced a transition Saturday, minus Michael Cobbins on the road at Kansas State for their Big 12 Conference opener.
What they didn't count on was a loss.
Without their primary big man, No. 6-ranked Oklahoma State stumbled at Bramlage Coliseum, looking disjointed and even desperate at times, falling 74-71 to the unranked Wildcats.
It was OSU's first loss since a Dec. 1 setback against Memphis in the Old Spice Classic, leaving the Cowboys at 12-2 overall and like a team in search of renewed identity.
The Cowboys led much of the game and were still in front 60-57 nearing the five-minute mark, but the Wildcats surged ahead and stayed ahead. A Phil Forte 3-pointer pulled OSU within 72-71 with six seconds left, but Nino Williams made two free throws to extend the lead to three for K-State and Marcus Smart's running 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.
“This was going to be an adjustment game,” said OSU coach Travis Ford. “We wanted to come in and win it, but it's been a tough week and we lost a major part of our team and we have to adjust.”
K-State, winning its ninth straight to move to 11-3, outscored the Cowboys 15-8 in second-chance points and got a double-double from burly forward Thomas Gipson, who scored 10 points and more than doubled his rebounding average with 11 boards.
Kamari Murphy moved into Cobbins' starting spot, but scored just two points and three boards, less than his averages of 6.1 and 6.2 as a reserve entering the game. And with Murphy stepping in, it left a void off the bench, where beyond Phil Forte, Ford used only three other players — sparingly.
“It was a big adjustment,” said Le'Bryan Nash, who led all scorers with 20 points
Still, OSU's woes weren't limited to the post.
The Cowboys played without backup point guard Stevie Clark, who was arrested on a marijuana possession charge New Year's Day. He made the trip to Manhattan, but did not play.
OSU shot poorly, including 33.3 percent in the second half; missed nine free throws; and were whistled for too many critical fouls, including a technical on Smart for hanging on the rim following a dunk — resulting in his fourth personal and a trip to the bench for nearly nine minutes of the second half.
Markel Brown added 16 points, Smart added 15 and Forte 14 to go with Nash's 20, but the rest of the OSU roster contributed a combined six points.
Ford also lamented his team's defense, which had been a constant strength.
“We just didn't play very good defense, for whatever reason, for the first time,” Ford said. “Didn't guard the ball very well. Gave up too much penetration. Too much one-on-one. Gave up too many second-chance points.
“And we didn't make good decisions on offense on a couple of occasions.”
The Wildcats, meanwhile, used the backing of an energized Bramlage Coliseum to play with a passion and energy that left the Cowboys envious.
“That's what we need to do,” Nash said. “Even though we've got talent, we need to play hard every game. That's what I'm going to do from now on, give my 100 percent to this team. That's what they need.
“We're losing Cobbins and it hurt us on the rebounding. It showed. But me and Murph and Brian Williams have to step up and rebound the ball for this team if we want to get to where we want to get to.”
So the Cowboys knew they faced transition Saturday.
But they can't afford to let the adjustment period linger.
“We can't really worry about Michael anymore,” Smart said of Cobbins. “Unfortunately he's not with us, so we can't really rely on that anymore. Everybody has to contribute a little more and step up a little more now.”