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Five Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 74-68 Loss to No. 7 Baylor

Make it five straight losses for the Pokes.

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[Devin Wilber/PFB]

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STILLWATER — The Cowboys were down big again before making their fifth straight loss look a little more respectable.

Oklahoma State lost to Baylor 74-68 on Monday night in Gallagher-Iba Arena. Here are five thoughts on the game.

1. Well, There Was Some Fight

The Cowboys trailed this game by 17 with 4:01 to play before pulling to within four with 35 seconds left.

It looks better on paper. Will that do anything for OSU come Selection Sunday? Who knows?

It was another tough night from 3 for the Cowboys, but three of their nine 3-point makes came in the final 1:13. The game seemed lifeless at a point, but credit to the Cowboys for finding life again. But almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Not being down by 19 is a better strategy than a ridiculous comeback.

2. The Road to the NCAA Tournament Narrows Further

After getting off the bubble in a good way on Feb. 11 against Iowa State, the Cowboys have fallen out Joe Lunardi’s projected field with one regular season game to play.

The best OSU can do now is finish 8-10 in Big 12 play with a win in Lubbock on Saturday. Here is a look at where Mike Boynton teams have finished in the league year-by-year and whether that team made the Tournament:

2021-22: 8-10, banned
2020-21: 11-7, danced
2019-20: 7-11, no tournament (but the dance was unlikely)
2018-19: 5-13, didn’t dance
2017-18: 8-10, didn’t dance

So the last time OSU went 8-10 and was able to play in the NCAA Tournament, the Cowboys were left out. That was Boynton’s first season. It was also a time before the NET ranking was implemented. The Cowboys made the NIT that year.

Bracketologists have an educated guess at the bracket, but it’s hard to say for sure what exactly the NCAA Tournament’s selection committee thinks of OSU and the Big 12 as a whole.

At this point it would be good for OSU to at least win in Lubbock and win in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament next week. The Cowboys might have to win a second round game as well. If the Tournament isn’t in the cards, the NIT plays its semifinal and final rounds in Las Vegas now, so there’s that.

“It is impossible to not think about [the NCAA Tournament picture] because if you’re a basketball player, then obviously that’s what you think about and you’re one of the teams that people are talking about being on the line,” Boynton said. “It’s why I don’t try to do the pretend like it’s not a real thing approach because when they leave the gym, they’re talking about it. They talk to their parents and their friends, and they’re talking about it. When they turn on their TV at night if they’re watching basketball, they’re talking about it. So, let’s just talk about it in a real fashion about what’s realistically in front of us.

“We had an opportunity against a Top 10 team, would’ve been great, didn’t get it done. We still gotta go to Lubbock against a team who is playing much better than when they came here a couple weeks ago. If you win in that one, it’s another really good win against a really quality opponent and you give yourself — I don’t want to say breathing room because you don’t have much breathing room at this point — but you give yourselves an opportunity.”

3. 3-Point Shooting Bites the Pokes Again

OSU started the night 0-for-7 from 3, attempting those first seven shots in 5:15.

The easy response is to say stop shooting them if they aren’t going in, but every one of those seven came from capable 3-point shooters are were good looks. They were shots college basketball teams have to take. OSU then hit two in a row before missing another seven straight. From the 2:21 mark in the first half on, OSU went a much more respectable 7-for-16 from deep, but when shots finally started falling, it was too late.

Then on the flip side of that, the high-scoring Bears went 11-for-31 (36%) from deep on the night. Stars LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler each hit a trio of triples, and Dale Bonner — getting more minutes in place of an injured Keyonte George — also went 2-for-3 from deep.

OSU is not an outstanding 3-point shooting team, and that won’t change between now and the end of the season. But the Cowboys are better than the 28% they shot against Baylor or the 22% they shot against Kansas State and the 11% they shot against West Virginia. The timing of this string of bad shooting games seemingly couldn’t be worse.

4. Two Bright Spots

I’ve been waiting for a win to write about Tyreek Smith’s performances over recent, weeks, but it’s been too long between OSU wins.

Smith might’ve been the Cowboys’ best player during this bad stretch. It doesn’t necessarily show on the stat sheet, but his physical presence often forces teams out of a rhythm and he makes positive hustle plays.

Against Baylor, Smith finished with four points, six rebounds and a gnarly block. Four of Smith’s rebounds were offensive part of a 22 offensive rebound night for the Cowboys, the most this season. He did, though, leave the game with an ankle sprain and didn’t return.

Then there was freshman Quion Williams, who has been under some Twitter scrutiny over recent weeks. His potential as a do-it-all big guard showed Monday with his 12 points, six rebounds and two assists. He was 2-for-3 from 3-point range. OSU is now 4-2 in games he has hit a 3-pointer, with the two losses being to Baylor.

5. What to Make of This Rough Stretch

The Cowboys are on a five-game losing streak.

For what it’s worth, three of those games came against teams in the top 11 of the latest AP Poll. But also for what it’s worth many of those games haven’t been too pretty.

The Cowboys will get a break from the nation’s elite starting Saturday. But a Texas Tech team awaits that has won four of five ahead of a trip to Lawrence on Tuesday night. The Red Raiders are fighting for their own NCAA Tournament bid and will get the Cowboys in front of an always rabid Lubbock crowd.

The league is a grind, there is no doubt. But five-game losing streaks aren’t going to cut it when the margins for making the NCAA Tournament and not making it are as tight as they are for the Cowboys right now.

“You’re only as good as your preparation,” Boynton said. “I say that all the time. I believe it firmly. What I told our guys is if we’re capable of playing with that type of effort [in the final minutes], that type of competitive fire, that type of fight, then we’re gonna find a couple more wins here before this thing is over. Maybe it’s Saturday, maybe it’s next week, I don’t know, but the deal is continue to lose yourself in the process. Don’t get consumed with the fact that it’s not going as well for you.”

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