STILLWATER — The Cowboys closed nonconference play Monday night with their 12th win in 13 games.
And with their first major dose of adversity.
No. 6-ranked Oklahoma State routed Robert Morris 92-66, but it likely lost starting forward Michael Cobbins for the rest of the season to an Achilles injury suffered in the game’s opening minutes.
Cowboys coach Travis Ford was hesitant to comment on the severity of the injury until further tests are done Tuesday, yet the tone clearly hinted at a worst-case scenario for Cobbins.
“Doesn’t look good,” Ford said.
On Twitter, comments from teammates further revealed the story.
Markel Brown, who came to OSU in the same class as Cobbins, tweeted “I hate it had to be him.” Brown also offered a hashtag of #PlayForMike20.
Freshman Jeffrey Carroll also tweeted a hashtag: #DoItForMike.
So much for warm and fuzzy feelings entering Big 12 play, with the Cowboys due in Manhattan to face streaking Kansas State — the Wildcats have won seven straight — on Saturday.
OSU has demonstrated a deep and diverse roster this season, with multiple scoring options and a rotation that has Ford has comfortably taken nine deep. Still, critics have regularly focused on one area of concern with the Cowboys: post play.
And Cobbins, at 6-foot-8, is OSU’s tallest starter and the team’s greatest presence in the paint as a shot blocker and defender.
Kamari Murphy, a top reserve, likely moves into the starting lineup in his absence. Yet Cobbins and Murphy have handled the bulk of the minutes in the post. With a man down, the Cowboys will have to lean on several players to pick up the slack.
There was a glimpse of that Monday night, with 7-footer Marek Soucek and 6-10 Gary Gaskins getting time inside, as well as a variety of lineups geared at going small, with Le’Bryan Nash and Brian Williams and Marcus Smart playing more physical roles on the floor.
“We’ve switched up lineups in practice, so we’re kind of used to playing with different guys,” said guard Phil Forte. “It’s not too much of a difference. We have a lot of versatile players, too.
“With Mike going down now, I think that’s going to be key for us.”
Against Robert Morris, which fell to 5-9, the loss of Cobbins wasn’t immediately costly.
Forte scored a game-high 20 points and made 5 of 8 shots from 3-point range. Markel Brown added 18 points and led an OSU attack that featured 11 dunks. Overall, 11 Cowboys scored and they out-rebounded the Colonials 40-30.
Still, in a season that has always carried great goals and an aim at the highest bar, the Cowboys suddenly find themselves facing a major adjustment with the toughest stretch of the season ahead in a conference that is proving to be better than advertised.
“Nobody is going to sit around and feel sorry for us,” Ford said of the competition. “We can all be sad for Michael, and we should be, and hold our head down for him. But we don’t need to hold our head down for our team.
“Everybody’s going to have to step it up. And we’ve got some options. We’ve got some guys who can do some things. It may not be a big guy, but it may be somebody else having to do something. And that’s the way we’ll approach it if that’s the case.”