If Tuesday's visit to Austin served as a barometer for how Oklahoma State will fare during Marcus Smart's three-game suspension, then it's safe to say the results did not bode well for the Cowboys.
They were rudderless and lethargic from the opening tipoff until the game was long out of reach.
A Texas team also without top big man Jonathan Holmes leaned heavily on its sometimes erratic backcourt, routing Oklahoma State 88-69 behind torrid outside shooting from Javan Felix and quick-footed forays to the rim from Isaiah Taylor. The Longhorns led by 10 after less than six minutes, by 21 at halftime and by as many as 29 midway through the second half before they finally took their foot off the gas pedal.
Oklahoma State's loss was its fifth straight and its sixth in its last seven games, calling into question whether a team once expected to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title could find itself on the NCAA tournament bubble in a few weeks. Unless the Cowboys can defeat either Oklahoma or Baylor in their next two games, they'll be 4-9 in the Big 12 by the time Smart returns from his suspension for shoving a fan in Saturday night's loss to Texas Tech.
Perhaps it shouldn't have been such a huge surprise Oklahoma State struggled on the road considering the psychological impact of Smart's absence and the roster attrition they had already endured.
Smart averaged 17.5 points per game and was their catalyst on offense and defense. Stevie Clark, Smart's primary backup at point guard, was dismissed from the team last month after two arrests. And Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State's starting center and best shot blocker, is lost for the season to a torn Achilles.
Without those three, Oklahoma State barely resembled the team that spent most of the first three months of the season in the top 15.
Phil Forte and Markel Brown played out of position at point guard, not an ideal role for a pure shooter and a slasher who are both better looking for their own shots than facilitating for their teammates. It showed as Oklahoma State had 10 turnovers compared to only six assists.
There weren't many viable options off the bench either. Seldom-used Christien Sager played 23 minutes to give the Cowboys some semblance of a bench presence, but it was basically a six-man rotation until the final minutes.
Still, with two stars as talented as Brown and Le'Bryan Nash, there's no way Oklahoma State should have been as thoroughly outclassed as it was, shorthanded or not. The Cowboys will need to give a better effort to avoid a similar fate against Oklahoma and Baylor.
Three weeks ago, Oklahoma State was 15-2 and ranked No. 9 in the country entering a supposed showdown with Kansas. Now the Cowboys are without their best player, mired in a losing streak and buried so deep in the Big 12 standings that those days seem like much longer ago.
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