The door into the NCAA tournament opened up ever so slightly for Oklahoma State, as the Cowboys (19-10, 7-9 Big 12) won 72-65 over the No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks (22-7, 13-3 Big 12) Saturday night in Stillwater.
Kansas was the fifth AP Top 10 team to fall on the day:
Via @EliasSports: Five AP Top-10 teams lost today, the most in a single day since January 18, 2003.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 2, 2014
Marcus Smart served as the barometer of how this game went.
In the first half, he was 0-for-7 from the field, scoring one point. As a team, Oklahoma State scored 25 points.
Kansas was only marginally better, scoring 26 points. The Cowboys were lucky to only be down a point, as their performance, and Smart's in particular, was very poor. Clearly, things needed to improve in the second half.
And improve they did.
Smart made five of his seven second-half field goals and helped power the Cowboys to the much-needed victory. The sophomore star would finish with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists. When Oklahoma State needed to make a big play, Smart was there. Over the last four minutes, he scored eight points, per SB Nation:
So, Marcus Smart. 8 points in the final 4 minutes to finish burying the Jayhawks. Wild second half.— SB Nation (@sbnation) March 2, 2014
It's no coincidence that Oklahoma State was a completely different team in the second half. During the first half, Cowboys shooters were settling for whatever Kansas gave them.
After halftime, they attacked the basket and played through the offense. As a result, their shots started falling. As a team, Oklahoma State finished the game 20-for-47 from the floor. Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash combined to go 10-for-16 for 37 points.
Kansas was its own worst enemy. The Jayhawks turned the ball over 22 times and committed 23 fouls, allowing Oklahoma State 33 trips to the foul line. Three Kansas players finished with four fouls—Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr.
Bill Self was blunt after the game when asked whether winning the Big 12 regular season title for the 10th year in a row was a reason for celebration, per Matt Tait of KUSports.com:
Self on celebrating B12 title after a loss: We're not gonna do anything. I told 'em to put the shirts & hats under the damn bus. #KUbball— Matt Tait (@mctait) March 2, 2014
The fouls played a big part in Oklahoma State's run in the second half. The Cowboys were able to quickly get into the bonus. That meant the Jayhawks got a little tentative on the defensive end, because if they kept pressuring on every possession they risked fouling and sending a Cowboys player to the line.
All of those foul shots added up after a while, especially for Brown, who made all 10 of his free throws. Smart went to the line 14 times, knocking down nine free throws.
Wiggins led the Jayhawks in scoring with 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting. His performance left a lot to be desired, which has become a bit of a trend this season when he's played good perimeter-defending teams, per Jonathan Tjarks of SB Nation:
Andrew Wiggins at Texas: 2-14. At Baylor: 4-13. At OSU: 5-14. Those are the 3 Big 12 teams w/multiple NBA-caliber athletes on the perimeter.— Jonathan Tjarks (@JonathanTjarks) March 2, 2014
Joel Embiid added 13 points of his own, but late in the game, he seemed to injure his back, which is a cause for concern. CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello reported that the freshman big man could barely even walk at the end:
This Joel Embiid deal is getting worrisome for Kansas. Could barely walk after the game. They need him more than they need regular-season Ws— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 2, 2014
Without a healthy Embiid, the Jayhawks may not be long for a March run, and they'll certainly need more from Wiggins going forward.
Key Player Grades
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: B+
When he's on, Marcus Smart can almost single-handedly win his team a game. When he's off, Smart can almost single-handedly lose it. You saw both ends of the spectrum on Saturday night.
Although Smart sparked the Cowboys' second-half comeback, he does deserve some criticism for his first-half performance.
Give credit where credit is due, though, since Smart stepped up when his team needed it the most.
Markel Brown, Oklahoma State: B
Say what you want about almost half of Markel Brown's points coming from the free-throw line, but hitting each and every one of his 10 free-throw attempts wasn't easy.
Brown's performance could be summed up in one word: efficient. He took only seven field goals all game, making four of them, including going 3-for-5 from downtown. Brown didn't need to take a high volume of field goals to help propel the Cowboys in the second half. Instead, he attacked the basket and forced the Jayhawks to put him on the line.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: C-
Andrew Wiggins was a massive disappointment in this game. Whereas Smart was knocking down every big shot, Wiggins seemed to be missing them. He was settling for shots on the perimeter. This was a game where the freshman could've made a statement.
The Cowboys were reeling after a poor first half, and a couple of key shots early in the second half could've put them away. Wiggins could've sparked that run, except he was nowhere to be seen.
The Cowboys finish up the regular season at home to Kansas State and then on the road to No. 15 Iowa State. At this point, their place in the Big Dance is stlll not certain. Beating both teams would go a long way towards helping their cause.
Kansas heads home to take on Texas Tech and ends the regular season at West Virginia. The Jayhawks are still hoping to lock down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They may have to win the Big 12 tournament to do so.