Cleary, these are tough times for Oklahoma State men's basketball.
Tough for fans who hoped to ride this team to a special season.
Tough for a coaching staff — and this extends beyond Travis Ford, to the family men assistants who are heavily invested, too — increasingly sensing the ire of fans and boosters and the pressure that accompanies that.
Tough, most of all, for the players, who are back at it again Monday night at Baylor.
Let's not forget them as angst escalates. None of them bargained for this, coming off six months of work and preparation, only to be betrayed by an injury to the underrated and underappreciated Michael Cobbins, the immaturity of Stevie Clark and the frustration-fed suspension of Marcus Smart.
None of them bought into a career at OSU with any idea the fan base would bail on them, unable to fill Gallagher-Iba Arena, not even for Bedlam.
And for anyone excusing themselves in protest of Ford — stop. The crowd for Eddie Sutton Night was inexcusably smaller than the 10,070 announced Saturday.
Smart and Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, et al, signed on to be part of a big-time basketball program and all that comes with it, erroneously anticipating support that no longer exists. Instead, they've had to plead for decent crowds and a return of the “Rowdy” to Gallagher-Iba Arena, even back when this season was going good, featuring a rousing rout of Memphis that played to less than capacity.
So when it comes to pointing fingers on what went wrong this season, perhaps some so-called fans should point some digits in the mirror, too.
For who knows what impact a jam-packed and jazzed GIA might have meant to the Cowboys in close home losses to Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma?
Maybe nothing. Maybe something.
Truth is, these Cowboys have been more appreciated on the road.
Five times in Big 12 play, enemy arenas have sold out for OSU.
Kansas, Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas Tech all enjoyed capacity crowds with the Cowboys in town. Kansas sells out regularly (one reason it has Bill Self and OSU doesn't?). K-State occasionally plays to a full house. And West Virginia, OU and Tech have filled up but once — for OSU.
In Norman it was a whiteout. In Lubbock a blackout.
Don't think the Cowboys haven't noticed.
“All we have is each other right now,” said sophomore guard Phil Forte, one of the Big 12's hardest workers who has two years remaining at OSU. “Everyone is against us.
“We just have to stay close as a group.”
Brown's voice cracked at one point in the postgame press conference Saturday. He'd exhausted himself trying to end a losing streak that stretched to six games. And he still showed a resolve that has hardly been reflected in the empty seats of Gallagher-Iba, insisting still that this season can be salvaged.
“Most definitely,” Brown said, almost in defiance. “We got a lot of time. We got a lot of games. All we got to do is pick off a couple, make a run. Still got a lot of time and going on the road to Baylor, a very winnable game.
“Just go out there and play with our pride, play with our heart, give it all we got.”
But then, that defines Markel Brown, who has averaged 40.4 minutes over OSU's last seven games, a number made possible by a 54-minute outing in the triple-overtime loss to Iowa State.
Always pushing. Always believing. Always competing.
Even in tough times.