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'Survival mode': Cowboys fight through grueling Big 12 stretch, face Texas Tech on Wednesday

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Oklahoma State's Lindy Waters III takes a shot while being guarded by Texas Techs Matt Mooney during the Oklahoma State vs No.15 Texas Tech Big 12 Conference men's basketball game at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater on Feb. 13, 2019.

In the darkness, the bus traveled farther from Bramlage Coliseum, but the disappointment lingered.

The Oklahoma State men’s basketball players, quiet for most of the trip, tried to rest in their seats after the exhausting game. Mike Boynton, their coach, said though he was aware of the discontentment and shame, he didn’t spend the bus ride focused on the Cowboys’ response to the loss. He sat in front of them and read a book called “The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win.”

Boynton is sticking to his leadership principles in the midst of constant defeat. Kansas State thundered past OSU 85-46, holding the Cowboys to their fewest points this season, Saturday in Manhattan, Kansas.

As the Cowboys (10-17 overall, 3-11 Big 12) rode the bus back from the Little Apple, finding a silver lining was difficult.

The Wildcats had embodied their status as the No. 1 Big 12 team.

“They took us to the woodshed, and from start to finish, it was pure domination,” Boynton said.

The Cowboys have little time to recharge. They face Texas Tech, the second-place team in the conference, at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Lubbock, Texas.

The No. 11 Red Raiders enter the game after stunning Kansas 91-62 on Saturday.

OSU is familiar with the challenges Texas Tech (22-5, 10-4) presents.

The Red Raiders defeated the Cowboys 78-50 on Feb. 13 in Gallagher-Iba Arena. Their fierce defense held OSU to 36.7 percent shooting from the field, including 25 percent shooting from 3-point range.

“It’s been survival mode for a while,” Boynton said.

With player dismissals and painful Big 12 losses, this season is a survival story for the Cowboys. They had a brief moment of glory when they claimed a home victory against TCU on Feb. 18 to end an eight-game conference losing streak, but the Wildcats deprived them of another chance to celebrate.

Lindy Waters III, a junior guard, said the Cowboys have to stay competitive regardless of their game plan.

“We already kind of lost what we’re playing for in terms of (the) postseason,” Waters said. “But right now, it’s all about pride.”

To endure this season, the Cowboys are adjusting in unpredictable ways. Dee Mitchell, a freshman guard who earned a spot on the team after open walk-on tryouts, played 9:07 against Kansas State. Five walk-ons closed the game against the Wildcats, and none of them were OSU basketball players until after Big 12 play started.

Boynton said if at the beginning of the season someone had told him that would happen, he would have thought it was impossible.

“But it’s part of the story for this team,” Boynton said. “I didn’t take this job in March of 2017 thinking it would be easy. I certainly didn’t anticipate as much adversity as we’ve had this year, but I believe that we’ll keep doing things the right way, keep recruiting the right guys, and eventually, we’ll hit a turning point; and I’m excited about the ability to get this thing going over the next couple seasons.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com