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For The Birds: OSU Comeback Falls Short Against Jayhawks

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LAWRENCE, Kansas -

For the first 20 minutes in Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas put on a clinic in exposing Oklahoma State's weaknesses in the paint.

In the second half, OSU responded by taking the fight outside – literally.

Markel Brown and Phil Forte unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers to bring No. 9 OSU back from an 19-point deficit but came up just short when a potential game-winning 3 from Le'Bryan Nash was stripped at the buzzer, as the 15th-ranked Jayhawks held off the Cowboys 80-78 on Saturday in Lawrence.

It was a tale of two halves in nearly every sense for the Pokes, as Oklahoma State couldn't buy a basket in the early stages and the much-larger Jayhawks took advantage of their size en route to a 22-4 edge in points in the paint and a 47-30 lead at the break.

In response, Oklahoma State came out of the locker room with an entirely different approach that consisted of an intense full-court press and exterior motion to open up shooters in an effort to avoid KU super freshman center Joel Embiid, who finished with eight blocks to go with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Brown and Forte combined to hit eight second-half 3's, six of which – including all four of Brown's – came in a 26-11 run where OSU forced six KU turnovers and whittled the deficit to three with 11 minutes remaining.

Forte his 7-of-10 3's overall to lead the Cowboys (15-3, 3-2) with 23 points. Brown hit 5-of-9 from outside to finish with 15 points but was ejected after picking up his second technical foul with four minutes remaining in the contest.

After Brown's dismissal, KU reclaimed a nine-point lead on the heels of the technical free throws but OSU once again refused to back down.

A ferocious Nash dunk with 2:52 left sparked a 9-2 run to trim the score to 77-73 before a clutch jumper from Naadir Tharpe put KU up six with 34 seconds remaining.

Marcus Smart responded in kind with a contested layup on the ensuing possession and the Cowboys quickly fouled Frank Mason to send the Jayhawks to the line, where he missed the front end of the one-and-one to keep the Pokes alive.

Forte sank his seventh 3-pointer of the contest on the next Cowboy possession to pull within one with six seconds left.

Then Mason was rapidly fouled again, where he hit the first of two free throws before clanging the second off the rim to ignite a hurried possession down to the other end where Mason made up for his misses by swiping the ball away from Nash on the potential game-deciding 3-point attempt.

The Cowboys nearly pulled off the improbable but the end result was a nail biter that appeared to have blowout written all over it at the beginning, as KU improved to 13-4 overall and remained unbeaten in Big 12 play at 4-0.

A lot of focus after this one, and perhaps deservedly so, will swirl around the chippy play between the teams that resulted in six technical or flagrant fouls and a long-list of questionable bang-bang calls in a hostile environment.

OSU was on the wrong end of the foul differential, with 23 personal fouls to KU's 14 and losing Brown to an ejection in a close game was a substantial blow. These teams clearly don't like one another and it showed on multiple occasions on Saturday.

But, for all of the complaints that are sure to come out of this one, the major differences boiled down to KU's size and a poor first half from Oklahoma State.

OSU's offense took a long time to right the ship after Kansas asserted its interior dominance and it proved to take too long in the end.

Outside of Forte and Brown, Marcus Smart had a rough night on 3-of-14 shooting but helped make up for it from the foul line, where he shot 10-for-10 to finish with 16 points. Smart also finished with a team-high 10 rebounds and nearly had a triple-double with nine assists. He also recorded four steals.

Kamari Murphy finished with 12 points and Nash added 10.

KU was led by 21 points from Tharpe and the near triple-double showing from Embiid. No other Jayhawk reached double figures but nine players scored in a showcase of the team's depth and versatility.

Heralded freshman Andrew Wiggins was relatively quiet with just three points on 1-for-5 shooting with two rebounds and a pair of turnovers. He didn't even attempt a shot in the final 29 minutes.

Overall, KU shot 55.8 percent from the field, while OSU managed to shoot just 39 percent but bridged the gap with a 12-made 3's. OSU turned the ball over just 11 times and forced the Jayhawks into 19 miscues.

These teams will meet again on March 1 in Stillwater.

Next up for the Cowboys is a matchup with West Virginia on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Gallagher-Iba Arena. OSU beat the Mountaineers already this season 73-72 on Jan. 11.

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