STILLWATER — Oklahoma State's first eight possessions against Louisiana Tech on Saturday: seven missed shots and a turnover.
So started a sluggish afternoon offensively, with the Cowboys never sustaining any flow or rhythm.
And still the No. 7-ranked Cowboys rolled, winning by 15 points.
Defense was the difference.
“When your defense is on point, that's what matters,” said OSU guard Marcus Smart, who had four steals against Tech, giving him a Big 12-best 30 in 10 games. “You're going to have off games on offense, that's just the nature of the game. We're humans. So that's going to happen. But if you're focused on the defense, that can make up for a lot of things that may not go right on the offensive end.”
The Cowboys have been dialed in on defense, residing at or near the top of every major defensive category in the Big 12 statistical rankings. And the numbers should improve when OSU hosts Delaware State on Tuesday in a 7 p.m. tip at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Maybe it's time to change the label on Travis Ford.
“I've always been known for offense, because my teams score a lot of points,” Ford said. “But people don't understand, we've had very good defensive numbers since I've been here.”
Still, the Cowboys have never, Ford said, had a better defensive team under his watch. And the numbers back it up.
In the Big 12, OSU ranks No. 1 in steals and turnover margin; No. 2 in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and blocked shots; No. 3 in 3-point field goal percentage defense.
All that from a team that plays fast, averages 88.4 points per game and leads the league in scoring margin. Only three teams have managed as many as 70 points against the Cowboys.
“I like our defense,” Ford said. “And I don't mind quietly going about it, as long as our team understands — defense and rebounding wins games and championships.
“You control the game with your offense. You don't want your offense to hurt your defense.
But we fully grasp and understand that defense is where it's won.”
The Cowboys don't just grasp playing defense, they embrace it.
Louisiana Tech entered its game against OSU averaging 86.2 points through 10 games, and managed 55 Saturday. Even as the Cowboys scuffled on the offensive end early, the Bulldogs couldn't gain traction, held to 20 percent shooting from the floor — 6 of 30 — and 18 points in the first half.
A week earlier, OSU held South Carolina to 15 first-half points.
Ford said his team enthusiastically awaits scouting reports on opponents, eager to delve into patterns and trends and weaknesses.
“There's nothing more demoralizing for a team than when they can't come down and run their play, because the other team knows what they're running and they shut it down,” Smart said. “They're looking at you like, ‘What do I do?'
“We want to turn teams over. We want to take them out of their sets completely and make them feel lost out there.”
Louisiana Tech coach Michael White said that if he'd known the Cowboys were only going to score 70 points Saturday, he would have liked his team's chances to compete. He didn't, however, figure on his team getting shut down.
So what makes these Cowboys so strong on the defensive end?
“I think they're very prepared, as prepared as anyone we've played,” White said, offering confirmation to OSU's scouting report work. “They knew how we were going to attack. They knew who was getting shots, when and where. And how we were going to get them.
“I think they communicate very well. They're extremely versatile. They're interchangeable. When you have a guy like Marcus Smart, who is potentially a nose tackle, who can guard a four or five on the block, and you have (Michael) Cobbins who can move his feet like a guard, they can take you out of a lot of things that you're trying to do.
“And they all have quick feet. We struggled to get around them. And we can get around most teams with our speed and quickness. We couldn't get around these guys very well.”
Maybe that's why former Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton paused before leaving the arena the night of the Memphis win to say, “I could coach this team.” Sutton always demanded defense.
This OSU squad demands defense of itself.
“This is a big improvement from last year. We had a couple of guys before, but now we have all five guys fitting in, listening to coach, digging down, 20 seconds, 10 seconds,” Smart said, “‘I'm going to play that defense all the way to the end of the shot clock, or however long it takes us.'
“We're going to take it like it's the last bucket of the game.”