Oklahoma State basketball coach Travis Ford found himself beaming after Saturday night's 78-73 win over No. 20 Colorado at the MGM Grand Showcase in Las Vegas.
Not so much about the win over a ranked team, or the way his team played — solid, yet inconsistent — or that the No. 7 Cowboys eventually closed out a late Buffaloes run.
Ford was beaming about his squad's flaws, or more precisely, the room for upside those flaws represent.
“The thing that I'm happiest and most excited about this team is we sit here at 11-1, a top-10 team and there's a lot of room for improvement,” Ford said. “There's a lot of areas we can get better at.
There was much to like about the win in Vegas. The Cowboys ended Colorado's 10-game winning streak, a run that included an upset of Kansas. They scored more points than the Buffs had allowed this season. They shot 61.9 percent from the floor (13 of 21) in the second half.
And they got major contributions from several players, with Markel Brown producing his first double-double of the season with 23 points and 11 rebounds; Phil Forte striking for 13 of his 16 points in the second half; and Marcus Smart and Le'Bryan Nash adding 18 and 15 points, respectively.
Yet, there were some sore subjects, too. Like several empty possessions down the stretch, when the Buffs made their run after trailing by 12, 73-61, with 3:03 remaining. And OSU continued a troubling trend of shaky foul shooting, making just 23 of 35 tries from the free throw line.
“So many positive things we can learn from and quite a few negative things as well,” Ford said. “It's a good victory, even when we didn't necessarily play our best.”
And that's Ford's quest: pulling more of the best from his team, with just one more nonconference game remaining before the Big 12 opener at Kansas State on Jan. 4
“We've just got to reach that potential and start putting 40 minutes together, because it only gets tougher from here,” Ford said. “Our league has proven at this point to be one of the toughest leagues in America. We need to continue to improve.”
The Cowboys now get extended time off for Christmas, before returning to Gallagher-Iba Arena on Dec. 30 to face Robert Morris.
And even in the aftermath of a solid win over a Pac-12 contender, there's a focus on improvement.
“It's a great win, a great team win against a quality opponent,” said Forte, who made 4 of 7 shots from 3-point range. “But we have to kind of figure out a way to close games better. We're heading into conference play where there's going to be a lot of games that are decided by one or two plays down the stretch.”