Not only have the Cowboys dropped four of five to slip to 7-6 entering the start of Big 12 play, they also learned Tuesday they've lost third-leading scorer Jean-Paul Olukemi to a season-ending torn ACL sustained during Saturday's loss to Virginia Tech.
The absence of Olukemi reduces the chances Oklahoma State will emerge from the skid that threatens to derail a season that began with such promise.
The arrival of freshmen LeBryan Nash and Cezar Guerrero and the return of Olukemi and Keiton Page appeared to give the Cowboys a nucleus capable of an upper-division Big 12 finish, but that group has underachieved this season. Oklahoma State's most noteworthy victory came against Missouri State and it has needed overtime to escape with wins over Texas-San Antonio and SMU.
Olukemi's inability to build on a standout debut season with the Cowboys contributed to the program's December struggles. The 6-foot-5 swingman's 9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game represent a slight step backward from his production last year, hardly the breakout season many predicted for him last summer.
It's certainly unfair to purely blame Olukemi since many Oklahoma State players are responsible for the team's disappointing non-conference season.
Nash has been erratic all season, looking like a future NBA lottery pick some nights and disappearing altogether others. The Cowboys also lack a true point guard besides the freshman Guerrero because Reger Dowell and Fred Gulley both transferred last month and Page is more comfortable playing off the ball. And for all Oklahoma State's length and athleticism, the team is shooting a paltry 32.8 percent from three-point range and 41.4 percent overall.
Couple those problems with the loss of Olukemi and a nagging hip injury that may sideline starting guard Markel Brown for a game or two, and Oklahoma State looks like a team that may finish ahead of only rebuilding Texas Tech in the Big 12.
An upper division Big 12 finish and an NCAA tournament bid was the goal for the Cowboys before the season began. Neither of those seem very attainable anymore.
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