STILLWATER – Reasonable Big 12 basketball wisdom suggests NCAA Tournament hopefuls protect the home floor at all times.
Even when home wreckers like the No. 7-ranked Texas Longhorns barge through the door.
For an Oklahoma State squad so far flimsy on the road and seemingly bound for a season-long ride along the NCAA bubble, finding some way – any way – to fend off Texas seems wise.
“They've got a lot of weapons,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “They're one of the top two or three teams I've seen play all year long. Seems like they have great team chemistry. And they look like a hungry basketball team, a team that's very driven right now.”
The Cowboys do have strengths to lean on tonight when the No. 7-ranked Longhorns pay visit to Stillwater for a 6:30 start set for ESPN.
OSU's best moments have come inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, where the Pokes are 9-0 overall and 2-0 in the conference. The crowd should be the biggest this season; and an emotion-filled gathering, at that, amid “Remember the 10” salutes and tributes in advance of Thursday's 10th anniversary of the 2001 plane crash.
These Horns, however, aren't easily intimidated.
Already, they've beaten North Carolina in Greensboro and won big at Michigan State and Texas Tech. And those were only the setup to Saturday, when Texas shoved aside the ghosts of the Phog, ending Kansas' 69-game winning streak at Allen Field House.
Cleary, these Horns don't scare easily.
“We're not afraid of them, either,” said Cowboys forward Jéan-Paul Olukemi.
After stumbling mightily a year ago, Texas has responded to coach Rick Barnes' overhaul. The Horns are getting solid contributions deep down a roster built upon elite prep recruits. They're big and physical and aggressive and quick.
Jordan Hamilton, who struck for 27 points in Stillwater a year ago – the last time an enemy team won in Gallagher-Iba – has blossomed into a star, averaging 19.5 points a game. Freshman forward Tristan Thompson looms as a force inside as a scorer, rebounder and shot blocker (five at KU). Premium pieces fill in around those two.
Still, this Texas team isn't invincible. And there's a 23-point loss at Southern Cal as proof.
The Cowboys will have to play better. And smarter. And with far fewer fouls.
“It's another key game for us at home,” Olukemi said. “I feel like it's a must-win right now. I know we're not sitting good,” at 2-3 in the Big 12.
And the Cowboys will have to manage emotions with so much going on around them.
“It will be an emotional night,” said OSU coach Travis Ford. “It's a night of remembrance. It's a night we're celebrating 10 people's lives. And that's very important. We need to do that. It's important that everybody recognizes that.
“But our guys also understand that we've got to play. There's a game to be played for 40 minutes as well. You can do both.”
OKLAHOMA STATE VS. TEXAS
When: 6:30 p.m. today.
Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater.
Radio: KXXY 96.1 FM.
Three things to know:
1. The Longhorns ended KU's 69-game home winning streak on Saturday, after snapping Michigan State's 52-game home streak against nonconference foes earlier in the season.
2. J'Covan Brown gives Texas a major scoring threat off the bench. A former starter, Brown scored a game-high 23 points in the upset of the Jayhawks.
3. Since losing to Texas at home a year ago, the Cowboys have won 13 in a row inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.