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.