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OSU basketball: Breaking down Cowboys' lessons learned in final stretch of loss to TCU

TCU center Kevin Samuel, center, shoots the ball while defended by Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham, right, during the second half Wednesday. [Rob Ferguson/USA TODAY Sports]
TCU center Kevin Samuel, center, shoots the ball while defended by Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham, right, during the second half Wednesday. [Rob Ferguson/USA TODAY Sports]

STILLWATER — With 2:21 remaining, Oklahoma State held an eight-point lead over TCU and looked poised for a strong Big 12 victory.

The Cowboys just had to finish.

But with a young team, things can go awry in a hurry. It’s a tough lesson.

OSU learned that the hard way.

The Cowboys failed to score in the final 141 seconds, allowing TCU to rally for a stunning 77-76 victory Wednesday night behind a jumper from RJ Nembhard with 7.6 seconds remaining.

The loss is the first for OSU (6-1) this season. It’s a tough blow for a team full of momentum entering conference play.

“Welcome to Big 12 basketball,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “Every night out it’s a fight for 40 full minutes.

“We did some good things, but we didn’t do enough to win. In this league, you gotta go win the game.”

Boynton knew there would be ups and downs with a young squad. The majority of the roster entered having played just six collegiate games.

That doesn’t make a loss easier to accept.

“It’s one of those things you don’t ever want to happen,” OSU graduate transfer guard Ferron Flavors Jr. said. “But I feel like we’re going to learn from it.”

There were plenty of lessons for the Cowboys in the final stretch.

• After freshman Rondel Walker made two free throws to give OSU the eight-point advantage, the Cowboys had a chance to get a big defensive stop.

And they appeared to do so.

TCU center Kevin Samuel missed a short floater, but neither OSU’s Avery Anderson III or Isaac Likekele could secure the rebound before it went out of play.

Nembhard, who finished with 21 points, responded with a 3-pointer on the inbounds pass.

“I believe (Nembhard) came off the double screen and I didn’t communicate for somebody else to switch out there,” OSU junior Isaac Likekele said.

• Twenty-four seconds later, Anderson missed a layup, but Kalib Boone appeared to get the tip-in putback. It was ruled goaltending, though, taking a basket from the Cowboys.

• OSU again had another stop when Taryn Todd missed a 3, but Samuel was fouled by Anderson on the rebound. Samuel — a 59% free-throw shooter — then made both free shots.

“We missed the box out,” Likekele said.

• Samuel then made another big play for TCU, knocking the ball off Boone’s leg. And Samuel followed that with a dunk, getting position on the undersized Likekele after Boone was subbed out.

OSU star Cade Cunningham, who is 6 feet 8, appeared initially to match up with Samuel, who is 6-11. But before the play, Cunningham switched with Likekele, who is 6-5.

• Now a one-point OSU lead, the Cowboys' Bryce Williams attacked the basket, only to be denied a clean layup and no foul was called.

• Nembhard followed with the open jumper with 7.6 seconds left. Cunningham looked to attack the rim after a timeout, but was forced to a contested jumper as time expired that hit off the front of the rim.

“At that point, you got to just rely on a kid to make a good decision,” Boynton said. “There’s nobody I’d trust more with the ball in his hands. He just hasn’t been through it enough at this level to see how the defense is going to react.”

The Cowboys struggled in other areas, too.

They shot just 42% overall and made just 3 of 17 3-pointers. Free throws were an issue, too. OSU made 17 of 26, but only 12 of 20 in the final half.

“That’s just something you can’t do,” Likekele said after pointing out he missed a free throw late. “Especially being an older guy, that’s something you can’t do knowing how hard it is to win in this league.”

But there were still some positives.

OSU battled back from a 13-point deficit in the first half. The Cowboys forced 20 turnovers. Cunningham scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half.

Those all just came with hard lessons.

“I just don’t see how we let that one go,” Likekele said. “We knew how big this game was.

“My message to them is just keep working. You can’t lose your swagger. You can't lose nothing that you got going on. You just gotta come and work hard tomorrow.”

Jacob Unruh

Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the... Read more ›