AUSTIN, Texas — Good thing Texas didn’t have leading scorer Jonathan Holmes on Tuesday night.
Things might really have gotten ugly.
No. 19 Texas 87, Oklahoma State 68.
The Cowboys, themselves playing the first of three games without suspended star Marcus Smart, offered little resistance at the outset, trailing by as many as 26 in the first half, when the Longhorns nearly emptied their bench and got at least one field goal from eight players.
They played better in the second half, even getting a lift from some unexpected sources. Yet on the road, down double digits and without their point guard and floor leader, OSU was already done by then.
“We just waited until the second half to start playing how we know how to play,” said sophomore forward Kamari Murphy. “It was too late by then.”
Way too late.
Cowboys coach Travis Ford found himself trying to decipher the two halves, seeking positives to carry over for Saturday’s Bedlam matchup.
“I liked the effort we had in the second half,” Ford said. “We had some guys step up. And guys never gave up — and there was opportunity to really get down.
“But guys kept fighting, which was great to see. Guys got a little scrappier.”
As for the first half, when the Longhorns fired in eight 3-pointers and were allowed to get in a comfortable offensive flow …
“I’m anxious to watch the tape,” Ford said. “I think they made some tough shots. Some shots off the dribble were tough, and they made ’em. And the 3s we were giving up, we don’t want to give all of them up, but some of them would be kind of what you’d want at times. But they made you pay for them. Give them credit.”
Following a recent trend, OSU brought out the best in an opponent.
The Longhorns, last in conference play in 3-point shooting percentage and 3-pointers made, tossed in eight in the first half and matched their season-high with 11 overall. Jevan Felix, shooting just 30.3 percent from the arc, connected on a career-best six treys and finished one point shy of his career-high with 27 points, when the Cowboys would have preferred him to fire away. That was their initial strategy — help inside to combat a severe size disadvantage, and make Texas score from the perimeter. “We wanted to protect the inside first and contest all shots and get out to shooters,” Murphy said. “Felix had a hot night.” The Cowboys, of course, remain cold.
Even before Smart was suspended for his shoving incident at Texas Tech, the Cowboys were reeling. Their losing streak has now stretched to five games, the most by an OSU team since Sean Sutton’s last team lost six straight in the winter of 2008.
And Oklahoma will roll into Stillwater on Saturday, surely sensing a Cowboys squad wheezing on life support, ready to yank the plug. Yet Murphy and Ford insist there’s life left in their squad.
Tuesday night’s game was the first run without Smart and came with no full practices, as the team took Sunday off and only worked out briefly at the Erwin Center late Monday. Walk-on Christien Sager was asked to play some at the point, and walk-on big man Mason Cox played six minutes in the second half. Both contributed, too, although the short-handed Cowboys saw starters Brian Williams and Phil Forte shoot a combined 2-of-15 from the floor. Le’Bryan Nash led OSU with 23 points, while Markel Brown added 18.
Murphy, usually highly critical, actually spoke optimistically looking ahead to Saturday.
“We’re going through a tough time right now,” said Murphy, who had a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards, “but I think everybody in the locker room still has winning in their head. We’re not down. We’re not blaming anyone else. We’re not making excuses. We just have find it somewhere in the team and somewhere in our hearts to win the game.”