Bryce Thompson reached high, collected the rebound and broke into a sprint, running to the opposite side of the court to score a fastbreak layup.
With 12 minutes left, OSU held an eight-point lead vs Kansas State — the longest lead the team had in two weeks. If the Cowboys held on, it would likely have secured them a spot in the NCAA tournament.
But instead, OSU only made three shots for the rest of the game and lost 73-68 to Kansas State in Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday. It was OSU’s fourth-consecutive loss. And now, Mike Boynton’s team’s chances at the tournament are slim.
“These usually come down to the last four minutes, and the team that executes the best (wins),” Boynton said.
In ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s “Bracketology” projection released minutes after the game, OSU (16-13 overall, 7-9 Big 12) was his last team to make the tournament. And with two games left — vs No. 9 Baylor and at Texas Tech — the path to stay in the tournament or avoid playing in the First Four will come down to the end.
OSU won seven of eight games from Jan. 18 to Feb. 11, including wins against TCU and Iowa State, and were off the bubble entirely in most tournament projections. But after a four game losing streak where the Cowboys are allowing 80 points per game and are at the cusp of missing the NCAA tournament, the urgency is at an all-time high.
“We know what’s at stake,” guard Caleb Asberry said. “I really feel like we can’t lose anymore games. We need to be more serious.”
The Cowboys said they believe they know what it takes to reverse the losing streak — they’ve done it before. OSU began Big 12 play 1-4, then started their six-game conference winning streak.
“We made mental errors down the stretch, like trying to make a pass that wasn’t there or going too fast,” OSU forward Kalib Boone said. “We competed the whole time. We did things we normally do. We just made those mental errors.”
OSU’s loss to Kansas State (22-7, 10-6) was a game that could’ve put most postseason worries away for the Cowboys, but instead, raised the stakes even higher.
The Big 12 tournament could be the last-second opportunity for the Cowboys to sneak into March Madness, but if they want to avoid being forced to play into the tournament, they will have the chance to win and stay in.
“Your backs are always against the wall in this league,” Boynton said. “You can play well and lose. We didn’t play poorly today — we didn’t play well enough to win. If that doesn’t give you the sense of urgency, nothing will.”