Frustrated by the patches of empty seats in the student section all season, Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford implored anyone in earshot to show up for the Cowboys' remaining home games during a speech at the school's student union Thursday afternoon.
Whichever Oklahoma State students heeded Ford's pleas Saturday afternoon didn't see anything that would encourage them to come back anytime soon.
In its worst performance of a disappointing first half of Big 12 play, Oklahoma State lost 76-70 at home against a Baylor team that entered the game having won only one of its first seven league games. Worse yet, the Bears were without Kenny Chery, their second-leading scorer and the lone true point guard on the roster.
Not only did Baylor lead most of the way even without Chery, it was the point guard's replacement who thwarted Oklahoma State's comeback bid. Gary Franklin made a trio of huge threes in the final three four minutes, the first of which gave Baylor the lead for good and the last of which extended the Bears' lead to five in the final minute.
Oklahoma State's loss was its second this week and its third in four games. A Cowboys team that entered the season hoping to end Kansas' nine-year reign atop the Big 12 is suddenly buried in the middle of the league standings, possibly as many as four games out of first place pending the result of the Jayhawks' matchup with Texas.
Why is Oklahoma State not playing up to expectations? There's more than just one culprit.
Some of it is the absence of injured center Michael Cobbins, whose shot-blocking, rebounding and relentless hustle and energy have been difficult to replace. Some of it is the quality of the Big 12, maybe the best conference in the nation top-to-bottom. And some of it is an offense that is streaky from the perimeter and misses the offensive rebounding that Cobbins provided.
Baylor's size advantage was what was supposed to give Oklahoma State trouble Saturday, but the Cowboys handled that rather well even without Cobbins. Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson managed just a combined three points, though reserve forward Rico Gathers struck for 12 on 5 of 7 shooting from the floor.
Oklahoma State could have survived that had the 3-point shooting totals been more even between the two teams.
Led by Franklin and sharp-shooting Brady Heslip, Baylor sank 11 of 23 from behind the arc. Markel Brown hit 6 of 8 threes for Oklahoma State, but the rest of the Cowboys were a combined 0 of 13, none worse than star Marcus Smart, who missed all seven of his tries from behind the arc.
For Baylor, this was a win that at least offers hope of a February revival. The Bears (14-7, 2-6) were left for dead earlier in the week after a home loss to West Virginia dropped them to 1-6 in the Big 12 with games against Oklahoma State, Kansas and Oklahoma up next.
Oklahoma State's situation is far less dire, but the Cowboys still aren't going to meet expectations. A team that hoped to dethrone Kansas in the Big 12 will need a strong final five weeks of regular season play just to finish in the top three in the league.
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