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SPORTS: Oklahoma State University

Cowboys Have Much To Prove After Loss In Norman

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

The road has been a rough place for Oklahoma State in recent years and Saturday in Norman might be as telling a sign as any in how dark this Cowboy curse has become.

OSU fell behind big early before fighting to get within two but ultimately didn't have enough left in the tank down the stretch, falling to the Sooners 77-68 at the Lloyd Noble Center.

OSU turned the ball over 15 times, went 0-for-9 from 3 in the second half, was outrebounded, outhustled, outcoached and generally outplayed. Such has become life away from the friendly confines of Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Expectations were budding as OSU marched into the Top 25 after a 20-point beat down of No. 6 North Carolina State and the Pokes charged out to a 10-1 record before hosting No. 10 Gonzaga on New Year's Eve.

Oh how things have changed since.

Travis Ford's team has now dropped three of its past four. While none are bad losses – No. 10 Gonzaga, at No. 25 Kansas State and at Oklahoma – it is time for OSU to stop collecting acceptable losses and start getting needed victories, but something needs to change for that to become a reality.

With the Bedlam loss, the Cowboys now find themselves at a crossroads.

This team has to figure out how to win on the road and it has to do it soon.

The road numbers are depressing for fans in recent years. Oklahoma State dropped to 1-18 in Big 12 road games the past three seasons and is just 1-20 in true road games since 2010. And that one victory came at Texas Tech last season; a season the Red Raiders finished just 1-17 in the Big 12.

That's a trend this talented team is more than capable of bucking, but it becomes more daunting with each loss.

Saturday marked the ninth-consecutive loss the Pokes have suffered in Norman. The last time the Cowboys won in its arch rival's building, it went to the Final Four less than two months later … suffice to say it's been a while.

And consider the starts the past three Cowboy teams, all generally regarded as more talented than their Sooner counterparts, have gotten off to at OU: In 2009-10, OSU fell behind early 15-6 in the opening minutes and a comeback effort fell short. Last season, the Cowboys found themselves in a 23-7 hole. And on Saturday, OSU again found itself on the wrong end of an early run, falling behind 24-12.

Falling behind big early makes winning on the road all the more difficult and it's a habit the Pokes have unfortunately developed.

There are reasons for these early holes OSU finds itself in away from Stillwater. For starters, OSU tends to start off at too fast a pace, jacking up 3's and turning the ball over, which not only fails to take the crowd out of the game, it often gets opposing arenas jazzed up.

The Cowboys have also struggled to develop role players to complement their stars. When Marcus Smart struggles like he did today with foul trouble and shooting woes, nobody is there to pick up the slack. Part of the reason for this issue is stemmed from the glaring lack of consistent inside scoring.

Michael Cobbins, OSU's most viable inside option offensively, had a nice game in Norman with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. But plays aren't often designed for Cobbins or any of the other OSU bigs as possessions tend to end with OSU's over reliance on 3's.

Take this stat for example: OSU missed more 3's (15) than Cobbins, Jurick and Kamari Murphy's collective shot total (11). But Cobbins shot 80 percent and Jurick 75 percent.

The ability to score on the interior is a must for teams on the road in the Big 12 and was a staple of OSU teams of old with the likes of Joey Graham, Ivan McFarlin and so on.

Whether it's more consistency inside, developing more definable roles throughout the roster or better ball protection, the Cowboys have to find a way to win on the road and it has to happen soon or it makes OSU's remaining eight home game virtual must-wins. And that's no small task with Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma among those eight.

This season still has all the potential to be great for the Cowboys but the corner needs to be turned sooner than later, and it needs to turn on the road.

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