LAWRENCE, Kan. — A scent of familiarity followed the Cowboys to the halftime locker room Saturday at Kansas.
And not the one associated with Oklahoma State's losing streak at Allen Fieldhouse dating back to 1989.
No, this was the funk of OSU's 41-point pounding at Baylor back on Jan. 14, with the Cowboys down to the No. 7-ranked Jayhawks 51-24. In Waco, bad turned to worse, with the Bears piling on in an out-of-control second half that everyone associated with OSU agreed carried a foul stench.
This time, however, the Pokes produced somewhat of a cleansing, even making things interesting for a sellout crowd of 16,300 at The Phog, before falling 81-66.
A joyous rally for the Cowboys? No, not hardly.
But something had to change, and did.
“We had to turn everything around after that first half,” said OSU senior Keiton Page. “They were beating us in just about every category there was to beat us in. We weren't too happy with ourselves at halftime.
“Our intensity turned around. We started playing much harder on the defensive end and it led to us getting easier baskets on the offensive end.”
The first-half stat sheet revealed a mismatch.
KU big men Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey had their way, combining for 22 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots.
The Jayhawks outshot the Cowboys 63.3 percent to 33.3, with seven of the baskets coming on dunks, many uncontested.
KU killed the Cowboys on the boards by a margin of 16, with OSU totaling more fouls (7) than rebounds (6).
The Jayhawks also had more assists (13-3), blocked shots (4-2) and steals (5-3).
And way more points.
Then the Cowboys flipped the switch, with a strong prompting from Travis Ford, not so much of a browbeating, as a directive.
“It was more of a challenge,” said Ford. “I said, ‘These are the facts. You got beat rebounding, you got beat… This is what we're going to do. This is the way it's going to happen.'
“I did it forcefully. There was no negativity; that was going to do no good. But I was fired up.”
Suddenly, the Cowboys were fired up, too.
After playing passively through the first 20 minutes, they produced an aggressiveness and a toughness that was absent in the early going. A matchup zone halted the easy buckets and some full-court pressing forced 11 Jayhawks turnovers in the second half.
On the offensive end, the Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash and Brian Williams started taking the ball to the hole, frequently getting baskets or drawing fouls. Runs of 9-0 and 16-5 pulled the Cowboys within 12, 68-56, with 6:46 remaining.
“Still a game,” said KU coach Bill Self.
A game for once, perhaps, although it never felt like the Jayhawks' lead was truly in danger.
Sure enough, a three-minute scoreless stretch followed for OSU, while the Jayhawks restored some comfort down the stretch.
“We had the game won midway through the second half, at least we felt like that,” said KU guard Tyshawn Taylor. “We let them dictate the whole second half. It we wouldn't have gotten that big lead in the first half, this game could have gone either way.”
In the end, it didn't go the Cowboys' way, dropping them to 12-13 overall and 5-7 in the Big 12, while Kansas improved to 20-5 and 10-2.
And yet, there was a mood with OSU that something had been gained.
“We've got to take what we did the second half and build on it,” Page said. “We didn't turn it around against Baylor, at Baylor. I think this says something.
“It's never fun walking out of here with a loss. But we've got to see how we played in the second half and what it can do for us and build on it for the future.”
Said Ford: “I am really proud of the effort. I'm impressed with our effort in the second half. I really am… I think they showed some resilience and some character in the second half. It's not a moral victory. We are disappointed we lost. But it's something to learn from and it's something to refer back to because a lot of these guys are going to have a lot more games to play in many years to go, with the makeup of our team.”