STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State considered Saturday night a statement game.
The Cowboys, needing to redirect a so-far disappointing season to regain NCAA Tournament traction, rallied past No. 5-ranked Kansas 72-65 inside a sold-out Gallagher-Iba Arena in a resume-building game.
Oklahoma State won its third straight after losing seven in a row before the turnaround.
The Cowboys improved to 19-10 overall and 7-9 in the Big 12 Conference with two games remaining in the regular season.
Kansas fell to 22-7 and 13-3 in the conference, losing for the first time since Feb. 10 at Kansas State.
The Jayhawks led 52-42 with 10:31 to play, but guard Marcus Smart led a Cowboys rally.
After missing all seven shots from the floor in the first half, Smart scored 20 of his 21 points after intermission and 12 in the final 7:16 when the Cowboys were pulling ahead.
“My teammates, they stayed in my ear,” Smart said. “‘Keep shooting. Keep driving. Do what you do. Let your defense create your offense.’ And that’s kind of what I did. I had four steals, so I was active off the ball and on the ball.
“I just kind of let my game come to me in the second half.”
Guard Markel Brown also had 21 points and forward Le’Bryan Nash added 16 for Oklahoma State.
Freshman guard Andrew Wiggins led the Jayhawks with 15 points.
But it was Smart who became the difference maker.
He took the ball right at the Jayhawks, driving and dishing and drawing fouls. And with Kansas in foul trouble that put the Cowboys in the bonus with 11:53 left, Smart earned frequent trips to the foul line, where he made 9 of 14 free throws.
“I don’t think you’re going to shut him out,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The ball’s in his hand so much and he’s so good at driving. And his teammates helped him, because his teammates helped him get in the bonus.
“It would be like any guy that’s thirsty, or hungry, if the other team’s in the bonus with 13 left, if you’re the best guy in America at drawing fouls, you’re going to drive it every time. That was a big difference. We couldn’t keep him off the free throw line.”
Still, the Jayhawks led 52-42 nearing the 10-minute mark and seemed ready to take control.
“We had them, but we couldn’t get any stops,” Kansas forward Perry Ellis said.
The Cowboys scored on 14 of their final 19 possessions, with Smart, Brown and Nash either scoring or assisting on every point the rest of the way.
Both teams endured ragged offensive stretches in the first half.
The Jayhawks went 5:18 without a point early and had just nine points nearing the midway point. Oklahoma State’s biggest lead in the first half was 14-7 with 11:36 left.
The Cowboys did not score again for almost seven minutes, with Kansas surging in front. Still, the Jayhawks hardly took full advantage. When Oklahoma State scored again on a 15-foot jumper by guard Phil Forte with 4:53 to play, the Jayhawks led just 19-16.
Kansas stayed in front until the end of the half, but it was by a slim 26-25 margin at intermission.
And when the Jayhawks owned the 10-point lead in the second half, the Cowboys found a way to rally again, scoring seven straight points and feeding off the arena’s energy.
“This is a team that never gives up,” Brown said. “Even if we’re down 20, we’re going to always fight and always have each other’s back. We’re going to always go out there and give it our all.”
During its seven-game losing streak, close losses were the rule, with Oklahoma State struggling to close out games down the stretch.
This time, the Cowboys closed with a flourish.
“Losing those seven games straight, it opened our eyes to a whole lot of things,” Smart said. “And a lot of it was not closing out a lot of those games. We were extra focused tonight. And we knew if it came down to it, we were going to have to pull out this game.”
And they pulled out a statement
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