The first and second halves inside Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday provided a stark contrast for the Cowboys.
Passive and soft through the first 20 minutes, Oklahoma State not only took a beating, it accepted with little resistance.
The final 20 minutes, however, the Cowboys shoved back.
Ignoring the size and experience disadvantage and shutting out a typically fabulous sellout crowd at The Phog, they revealed some spunk that flipped an embarrassing afternoon into an intriguing final half of basketball.
In this season journey – this “process” as Travis Ford likes to call it – it was a sign of growth when contrasted against the way the young Cowboys wilted against Baylor in Waco several weeks earlier.
It's too early to attach any significance to OSU's spirited final half in Lawrence. A second-half letdown would be understandable for the Jayhawks, who had their way in a 51-24 opening period.
Still, the Cowboys deserve credit for bowing up and battling back, even being the more physical aggressor after intermission. They went hard to the basket. They played hard and they fouled hard, too.
Now, if it was a significant step forward in the development of a team that features five freshmen in its rotation, we likely won't know anytime soon. These things take time to be fully revealed.
But if a year or two from now, the Cowboys are battling in the upper division of the Big 12 and threatening to make noise in the NCAA Tournament, we might look back on Feb. 11, 2012, in Allen Fieldhouse as a turning point.
“It shows a lot,” said Markel Brown, who's been bringing the attitude of late with his hard-charging and hard-jamming play. “It shows we're willing to fight with any team in this league. We got off to a bad start. We had to turn it around the second half.”
These Cowboys are far from a finished product, although Ford has clearly found a comfort in his starting five, which he used for 188 of a possible 200 minutes Saturday, when none of them came off the floor in the second half.
And aside from senior Keiton Page, the other four – Le'Bryan Nash, Markel Brown, Brian Williams and Michael Cobbins – all represent the team's major core going forward. And they'll have help, with Philip Jurick, Cezar Guerrero and Marek Soucek all offering upside with further exposure in the system.
There are also the hopeful returns of Darrell Williams and Jéan-Paul Olukemi, both of whom would have been starters on this year's team. And then there's the new blood, led by five-star recruit Marcus Smart, who was recently named to the McDonald's All-American team and once projected to provide a missing ingredient of toughness, until Saturday's second half suggested there's more grit to the current Cowboys than previously believed.
“We have been through this before,” Ford said. “We have been punched in the mouth before. And our guys, I don't think liked the taste of it at halftime.”
Ford didn't like it either, but found himself in the spot of needing not to jump his team, but poke it and prod it.
Apparently, he said the right things.
Is this the optimistic take? Absolutely.
Yet for a young team with talent and upside even KU coach Bill Self admired for the future, why not?
Ford warns that the growing pains will continue this season. There are some matchups, like Saturday, that just tilt too heavily against the Cowboys. Playing bigger teams, they struggle to defend the interior and rebound. And their efforts to cover up their size limitations often leave holes exposed elsewhere.
A return of Darrell Williams and further development of Jurick, Soucek and Cobbins would go a long way toward shoring that up.
And there's something to be said for OSU's athleticism and skill. And in time, it only figures to get better.
Maybe Saturday will prove to be nothing more than a tale of two halves, one team's lost interest and the other's accompanying rise.
Or maybe it'll prove to be a turning point.