Keiton Page stood hunched over near midcourt Saturday, tugging up the toes of his right Nike, trying to find relief for the attack of a leg cramp, as the Cowboys readied for the stretch run against Texas.
Page was deep into a hard-earned 40-point performance, so some cramping could be expected.
Yet it wasn't likely just a single-game accumulation, no matter how hard Page was forced to work against a Longhorns defense finely focused on stopping him. For Page and his fellow OSU starters, the Big 12 schedule has been nothing short of a grind, due to a shrunken roster and a lacking trust factor by coach Travis Ford in his limited bench.
The heavy load just might be catching up to the Cowboys, who are heavy on freshmen who could be hitting the rookie wall.
And Ford knows it, adding yet another hurdle in what has been a season that keeps delivering challenges for the fourth-year coach.
“It's kind of tough when we have six, seven guys playing,” Page said. “And some of us are playing 35 minutes-plus. But Coach was really good the past few days about giving us our rest and getting our legs back underneath us.”
The legs were absent in Wednesday night's blowout loss at Missouri, which followed a Saturday game at Kansas in which the Cowboys scrapped throughout the second half to restore some respectability.
In conference games, Page leads the Big 12 in minutes played, averaging 36.9 per game. Brian Williams ranks sixth at 34.9.
The other Cowboys starters: Markel Brown 32.8, Le'Bryan Nash 31.8 and Michael Cobbins 31.6.
And those numbers have spiked since Philip Jurick injured his foot almost a month ago, with the starters regularly playing in excess of 37 minutes every time out.
Ford likes his current starting five. And the more they play, the better OSU's chances of winning.
But that comes at a cost. So Ford is forced to adjust, which he's doing.
“I saw it in the Missouri game,” Ford said. “In time outs, our guys were wanting it so bad, but you could tell they were listening to me, but they could never get it going.
“After the game, I sat our coaches down, told them what I thought. And I brainstormed all night, trying to come up with some things that we could do.”
Back home from Columbia, Ford backed off on the Cowboys.
Thursday, a regular practice day, the Pokes didn't even dress out. Ford even cut down on film session, from the usual hour to 15 minutes.
“It's as mental as it is physical,” Ford said.
Instead of getting on the court, the Cowboys focused on extra stretching and alternated in the hot and cold tubs.
Friday, practice was limited to half court, in a near walk-through installing the game plan for Texas.
Saturday, the Cowboys skipped shoot-around, had their pregame meal at 11 and followed with a walk-through.
“He's just looking at it from a player's perspective,” said freshman Le'Bryan Nash. “We tell him how our body feels and he goes off of that. That's why I came here, because Coach Ford is a player's coach.
“He was asking us if we were tired. And we told him the truth.”
Ford asked for something in return.
“I told them,” Ford said, “‘I will do my part, now you've got to do your part away from me.' Not going out. Not staying out all night, things like that.”
Ford didn't expand his rotation against Texas but did play Cezar Guerrero 16 minutes, alternating through the other guards while Guerrero was on the floor.
“I thought C.J. gave us 16 good minutes,” Ford said. “We needed those 16. It enabled us to rest each of those guards.
“We just kind of rotated them — boom, boom, boom, boom, and that was good for us.”
Ford will try and manage the Cowboys similarly the rest of the way, monitoring practices and pushing the hot and cold tubs, all in an effort to keep his crew as fresh as possible.
“They talk about in the NBA how rookies hit that wall,” Ford said, “our young guys have played a lot of minutes. And we're expending every bit of energy just to stay in the game. We're fighting just to stay in it.
“We've got to do as much as we can.”