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Forward focus: OSU falls short in Big 12 Championship, focus shifts to NCAA Tournament

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The Oklahoma State Cowboys and Texas Longhorns compete during the Phillips 66 Big 12 Basketball Championship at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri on March 10, 2021. (Denny Medley\Big 12 Conference)

Cade Cunningham hoisted up a desperation three as the clock winded down to zero. It didn’t go in, but it didn’t matter anyway.

He had sunk two 3’s to cut the deficit to three points just seconds earlier, but Texas’ Andrew Jones put the game out of reach with two free-throws. Once the final buzzer sounded, Cunningham and the rest of the Cowboys slowly walked to the tunnel, the disappointment was apparent.

It’s a bittersweet end to a magical Big 12 run, but this isn’t where OSU’s story has to end. That’s exactly what Isaac Likekele said to Kalib Boone after it was over.

“We’re gonna be playing for another chip soon,” Likekele said. “We need to remember this feeling.”

The feeling Likekele is referring to is what they heard from inside the locker room.

Texas’ Matt Coleman III and Jericho Sims absolutely killed the Cowboys today, combining for 51 points and Sims recording 14 rebounds. Those guys led a determined Texas team to its first ever Big 12 Tournament Championship, and naturally, they celebrated on the court.

Likekele and Co. don’t want to be on the wrong end of that again.

“We're more hungry than ever,” Likekele said. “Going into that locker room, it wasn’t sad faces, it was more like mad faces. Just to hear the celebration out there, hearing the music, hearing them have fun, it was a feeling that stung for sure.”

Coach Mike Boynton’s message to the team was more of the same. There’s no time to get down about this loss.

“The next time we have this feeling, losing a game, it's over,” Boynton said. “Like this team won't be together anymore. We need to make sure that we have an understanding of that.”

Just a few months ago, OSU thought the NCAA Tournament wasn’t even in the realm of possibilities with the looming postseason ban. They’re gonna get that chance after all.

The Cowboys haven’t made the big dance since 2017. The recent hot streak has seen the team skyrocket in the projected tournament seedings, but they don’t care what seed it is, OSU is excited to play in the tournament.

“It's a very exciting time,” Boynton said. “First time as a head coach that we're going to be a part of the big dance and we're going to have a chance to continue the season, so I'm really excited to see what we can do.”

OSU will find out its seed tomorrow at 5 p.m. during the Selection Sunday show, and the national consensus is that the Cowboys have played their way into a No. 3 seed at worst, and there’s an argument for a No. 2 seed.

“We’ll be like the first 2 seed to be an underdog if that happens, and we'll be fine with it,” Boynton said.

The Cowboys will now get a few days of well-deserved rest after playing six games in 13 days. The team will travel to Indianapolis on Monday, quarantine for a few days, and play its first tournament game on Saturday or Sunday.

“Going to the NCAA Tournament is going to be a fun experience, and I can't wait to experience that,” Boone said.