Travis Ford dragged into the postgame press conference Saturday night, revealing a body language previously unseen in his four basketball seasons at Oklahoma State.
Ford was exasperated for sure, having just seen his team wilt late in a 66-56 loss to New Mexico in the All-College Classic. Yet it wasn't just the loss, but all-to-familiar story lines that dropped the Cowboys to 6-4 nearing the end of the nonconference schedule that seem to be taking a toll.
* Dreary dry spurts that routinely sink the Pokes into double-digit deficits.
* Unreliable point guard play, leaving the Cowboys with little flow or direction on offense.
* Disappearing acts by key figures, continuing a trend of inconsistent play by guys Ford counts on to carry the day in most games.
* And plenty of regrets, this time a dreadful shooting night – 18-of-56 from the floor, with many of the misses from close range – and vital stretches that beg for playmakers, often in vain.
OSU has played five defining basketball games: Stanford, Virginia Tech, Missouri State, Pittsburgh and New Mexico.
All but Missouri State resulted in losses. And even the win in Springfield required a frantic late rally, at the time hinting of a possible breakthrough, but in hindsight reflective of a disturbing trend that has seen OSU fall far behind time and again.
Where do the Cowboys go from here?
Minus a fast-flip turnaround, this team will be forever pressed to overcome its many major flaws. And there's little evidence that it can right itself into a Big 12 contender or an NCAA Tournament team.
As Ford slumped into his chair to reflect on another disappointing loss, he almost gave off a vibe of defeat, although his signature competitiveness and fiery spirit suggest it was but a moment of weakness.
“Not a whole lot to be said,” began Ford, who is seldom at a lack for words.
And yet, what is there new to be said about a team that stubbornly repeats the same mistakes and poor decisions?
Yeah, it's still early. And the Cowboys clearly have talented pieces. Yet the pieces don't seem to fit so well together. Not without a point guard to run things. And not without better definition of what Ford wants this team to be.
OSU's most potentially dynamic players – Le'Bryan Nash, Jéan-Paul Olukemi and Markel Brown – are all cut from the same mold, yet regularly paired together, seemingly stifling the effectiveness of at least one of the three.
There's no dominant presence in the post; no consistent scorer to be counted on.
Much like a year ago, when OSU missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Ford, these Cowboys lack anyone who provides comfort as a clutch-time triggerman.
There are no jump shooters, just a collection of slashers to pair oddly with perimeter sniper Keiton Page.
“We just can't get everybody on the same page,” Ford said. “When we get one guy playing well, another guy takes a step back.
“We're struggling to score. It's bewildering.”
Maybe Ford will have to reconsider this group's style of play. He's recruited a collection of athletes. But basketball players? Remains to be seen.
Still, he's asking his slashers and lane crashers to operate out of a half-court offense that doesn't seem to match their skills, calling on them to run around a series of screens in hope of finding open shots, though shooting isn't a strong suit.
With a young team that could teeter emotionally, Ford faces a major challenge to fix things quick.
“I've talked a lot about what a great group of guys we have, and they are,” Ford said, “but they have to understand that once they step across that line it's time to get serious. It's not just fun and games. Some of them are still trying to figure out what this is all about.
“We'll learn from it. We're better than we were two weeks ago. We have some weaknesses we have to camouflage. But we'll figure it out.”