If you tuned into the Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Kansas Jayhawks game on Saturday to see Marcus Smart battle Andrew Wiggins head-to-head, you might have been a little disappointed.
Jayhawks center Joel Embiid took the game over with his play on both ends of the floor and led Kansas to an 80-78 win. If you had doubts about his status as the front-runner to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, this performance should have cast them away.
Wiggins was nonexistent for most of the game, and although Smart contributed and led his team, he wasn't at his best.
Embiid had 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. He was clearly the best prospect on the floor on Saturday.
Kansas had to hold on and withstand late charges from the Cowboys to improve to 13-4 overall and 4-0 in the Big 12. The loss dropped Oklahoma State to 15-3 and 3-2 in the conference.
The Turning Points
With just under nine minutes left, the Cowboys went on a huge run to cut the lead to three points. Behind Embiid's rim protection and long-distance shooting from Naadir Tharpe, the Jayhawks regained control of the game.
CBS Sports' Gary Parrish provided Tharpe's comment on the game:
"[Oklahoma State] did a lot of talking and shoving and stuff like that," said Kansas junior Naadir Tharpe, who was 7-of-8 from the field and finished with a team-high 21 points and six assists. "We came back and we just attacked them, and that's what we needed to do."
The Cowboys seemed to expend all their energy trying to come back.
With Embiid throwing down slams, rejecting shots and sinking sweet left-handed hooks, the Jayhawks were almost home free.
But Oklahoma State showed heart and resiliency. Smart cut the lead to four points with 1:06 left, but Tharpe drilled a jump shot with 34 seconds remaining to put Kansas up by six.
The Cowboys still weren't done.
With 5.4 seconds left, Phil Forte III drained a corner three to bring the score to 79-78.
Finally, after missing a key free throw on the other end, Kansas freshman Frank Mason stripped Le'Bryan Nash as he attempted what would have been a game-winning three as time expired.
CBS Sports' Doug Gottlieb gave Tharpe and Embiid their due for their part in Kansas' win:
Nadir Tharpe’s 2 3’s and Embiid defending the rim have been the difference in the 2nd half—— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) January 18, 2014
The Key Stat: Oklahoma State's Field-Goal Percentage
Sometimes a team just has a bad shooting night, but the Cowboys' struggles on Saturday were deeper than that.
Kansas' defense, led by Embiid, deserves the bulk of the credit. As a team, Kansas blocked 11 shots, with eight from the big freshman. Overall, the Cowboys shot 39.4 percent from the field.
If it were not for the free-throw line, where the Cowboys went 14-of-16, this would have been a blowout.
Joel Embiid, A
The uber-talented freshman was just two blocks shy of an unconventional triple-double. He affected the game in so many ways that you have to marvel at what he's become and what he will be long term.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman commented on Embiid's ability to take over the game with limited shots:
Felt like Embiid just dominated the last 7 minutes of the half. He's only taken one shot so far.— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) January 18, 2014
Naadir Tharpe, A-
The freshmen got a lot of the attention on Saturday, but Tharpe represented for the upperclassmen.
The 5'11" junior was just as big as Embiid—figuratively speaking. He had 21 points on a near-perfect shooting day. He made 7-of-8 attempts from the field and all four of his free throws.
His clutch shooting helped seal the win late.
Marcus Smart, B+
Although he didn't shoot well from the field (3-of-14), Smart almost had a triple-double. With 16 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, he found several ways to impact the game without shooting a high percentage.
Perhaps even more valuable than his play was his maturity and leadership. The sophomore kept his potentially volatile teammates (Le'Bryan Nash and Markel Brown) out of trouble as much as he could.
Wasserman captured this image of Smart saving Nash from a technical foul:
Shut yo mouth! pic.twitter.com/Tsv6aZfssO— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) January 18, 2014
He was a little late when Brown got a technical late in the second half, though.
Markel Brown, B-
Offensively, Brown was strong. He had 15 points on five three-point bombs.
However, he let his team down by losing his cool late in the game. Embiid showed he can be an irritant as he provoked Brown into the technical foul.
Brown had fouled out before he received the technical, so he was exiting the game anyway. But the Cowboys were already trailing, and the two technical free throws didn't help their comeback efforts.
Phil Forte III, A-
He made two huge threes in the second half to make the game interesting and seven treys in all.
The kid has no conscience and seemingly limitless range. With Embiid protecting the rim, Forte III's shooting helped keep the game in reach for the Cowboys throughout.
Andrew Wiggins, D
Who is the better prospect?
Wiggins was benched for most of the second half for what seemed like ineffectiveness. He had three points on 1-of-5 shooting from the floor and three fouls.
Kansas head coach Bill Self brought him back in the game late in the second half, but he was a non-factor.
Get ready for Wiggins' critics to go at him even harder now.
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