STILLWATER — Oklahoma State’s basketball season has been revived. Not even the loss Saturday at Iowa State squelches momentum much. The Cowboys again are playing strong. Play like this, and OSU won’t be an easy out in the Big 12 Tournament or the NCAAs.
But to make a deep run in Kansas City or the NCAA brackets, the Cowboys need some help. Mainly from Travis Ford.
Ford has to coach better. He’s got to prepare his squad for all the little details that can determine winning or losing in a tight game.
Ford has not coached well this season. In January, Ford seemed to lose grasp of his superstar and thus his team. That has changed, which is why the Cowboys are formidable again. So kudos to Ford for righting that ship.
But the maddening mistakes that are magnified in close games continue.
We saw that in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday.
I went to a basketball practice the other day. A team below the Big 12 men’s level. The last five minutes of practice were spent working on intentionally fouling when up three points late in the game.
I don’t know if the Cowboys work on such tactics or not. But it didn’t show in the final seconds of regulation at Iowa State, and it cost OSU another win.
When Phil Forte missed a foul shot with five seconds left in the game, Iowa State still had life, trailing by three points. Ford wanted his team to foul, which is the accepted strategy, but Markel Brown, the man who could have done that just that, said he never got the message, and the Cyclones’ Naz Long hit a desperation 30-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
The roles were reversed in overtime. Twice in the final 10 seconds, OSU got the ball down three points. Both times, Iowa State quickly fouled before the Cowboys could get anything close to a 3-point shot.
Some coaches choose to not foul. Which is fine. You can get burned both ways. But players not getting the message? That’s unacceptable.
Brown was in perfect position to foul Long, who was dribbling. That’s when you foul in that situation. On the dribble. That way there’s no chance of a freak shot and some ref awarding three foul shots.
But Brown said he didn’t know he was supposed to foul. That’s a major communication problem. The Cowboys were out of timeouts, and with the usually automatic Forte on the line, victory seemed assured.
Maybe the Cowboys were already celebrating. Maybe they went into shock when Fill-it-up Forte missed. But no excuse. Ford has to have a system by which that message reaches every Cowboy on the court.
This is the latest example of the Cowboys not playing well in crunch time. OSU is 4-9 this season in games that were no more than three-point margins, either way, going into the final minute; 3-8 in Big 12 games.
Well-drilled teams prosper in such circumstances. The Cowboys have not. If OSU just goes 5-6 in tight Big 12 games, the Cowboys are fourth in the conference. Go 6-5, and they are third.
Instead, OSU placed eighth.
That doesn’t mean I’m on the fire-Ford bandwagon. Plenty are, including some prominent boosters. But firing Ford wouldn’t make financial sense, either by fully paying off his contract or some kind of negotiated buyout. And I don’t think it would make basketball sense. Ford has made OSU hoops relevant again, and not even the disappointment of this season changes that. Even with the soon departures of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, the Cowboys have some building blocks, and a top-20 recruiting class has been secured.
The best reason to make a change is because it would invigorate the fan base. But invigorating the fan base and filling Gallagher-Iba Arena are two different things. Don’t get them confused. A new coach is not going to return Gallagher to its previous splendor anytime soon.
The story of this OSU season has yet to be written. College basketball is a post-season sport. A glorious regular season can be wiped out with an early March defeat. A disappointing regular season can be salvaged by a march through March.
This Cowboy team can still do great things. But Ford has to sweat the small things, so that when another last-minute verdict is rendered, OSU gives itself the best chance to win.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.