LAWRENCE, Kan. — Oklahoma State left Kansas carrying some amount of respect Saturday.
And, too, a decent amount of regret.
That's the takeaway when you scuffle into a 17-point halftime hole, then charge back to have the ball and a chance to tie or win on the final possession, as the Cowboys did in making a fully invested Allen Fieldhouse crowd sweat down the stretch.
Thus the regret, when Le'Bryan Nash was stripped by KU's Frank Mason going up for the final shot, allowing the Jayhawks to survive 80-78 in a rout turned heavyweight bout.
The close call, after a worst-case opening 20 minutes that included foul trouble and shoddy offense, left the No. 9-ranked Cowboys wondering “what if?”.
“If we'd played the whole game like that,” OSU guard Phil Forte said, “I think it would have been a different story.”
Of course, the Cowboys didn't.
Instead, OSU fell to 15-3 and 3-2 in the Big 12, while the No. 15 Jayhawks improved to 13-4 and 4-0, seizing early control of the conference.
And Kansas didn't put two strong halves together, either, dominating early and wilting a bit late.
“We played really well the first half, but we played as bad the second half as we did good the first half,” said Jayhawks coach Bill Self. “We are happy that we won, but frustrated about how we finished the game. That was as poor of a second half as we've played.”
On the flip side, it was the poorest first half for the Cowboys through 18 games. They were down 47-30, shooting 30.8 percent from the floor (8 of 26) and getting battered inside, where KU 7-footer Joel Embiid led a post assault that resulted in a 22-4 scoring edge in the paint.
OSU was out of sorts, too, with the Jayhawks imposing their size advantage and their will and the Cowboys losing starters Brian Williams and Nash for much of the half to foul trouble. Without them, OSU had to scrap plans to pressure KU's sometimes erratic guards, dropping into an uncharacteristic zone in an effort to try and survive.
“It affected us a lot, because we couldn't get out and pressure like we wanted to,” Smart said. “We were so cautious of whether we were going to get a foul. We had to adjust to how the game was being called. And it hurt us.
“It was a big deal to us.”
The Cowboys showed how big immediately in the second half, turning up the pressure and turning over the Jayhawks — four times early in the half during a spurt that trimmed the lead to eight, 52-44 — and 14 times overall in the final 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, Forte and Markel Brown heated up, firing in eight 3-pointers and combining for 27 of their 38 points after intermission.
“Going into halftime, we knew it was going to take a big effort to come back, especially playing on the road,” said Forte, who finished with a game-high 23 points and 7 treys. “We just tried to make it four-minute intervals and slowly chip away at the lead. We did that. “We played the way we should have come out and played, with a lot of intensity and effort and playing as a team. I think that's what got us back.”
When Forte drilled his final 3 from the corner with :05.7 left, OSU was somehow within one, 79-78.
And after Mason missed one of two foul shots at the other end, the Cowboys rushed upcourt, yet couldn't get off a shot, with Mason saving the day.
“LB tried to make the play,” Forte said of Nash. “I think it was the right play. Kansas just made a good play.
“Give them all the credit, they made a game-winning play.”