By Jason Elmquist
KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
A slow start and early foul trouble spelled certain doom for the 14th-ranked Oklahoma State men's basketball team in Friday's semifinal game of the Big 12 Conference Championship at the Sprint Center.
With Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash, two of OSU's top scorers, on the bench for much of the first half with two fouls each, the Cowboys were unable to get in any type of rhythm and fell to No. 11 Kansas State 68-57.
"We just came out flat. The ball wasn't rolling our way," said OSU freshman point guard Marcus Smart, who scored a team-high 18 points on 6 of 17 shooting. "We got the ball to where we wanted it, and to who we wanted it to get it to at the time, but things just weren't falling for us."
Brown, who leads the Cowboys in scoring with 15.6 points per game, took the biggest hit, playing a mere three minutes in the first 20 minutes of the game. He came out of the halftime break with his first bucket of the game and eventually finished with 8 points — just the fourth time this season he failed to score double digits.
"I sat on the bench for nearly the entire first half, so when I got back out there it had been like 40 minutes. I had to try to get loose again," Brown said.
Nash was able to get going a little bit more in the second half, scoring all 11 of his points playing 19 minutes in the final period.
But still, the damage from the first half — which was still just a 5-point deficit for OSU — was done. The Cowboys shot a mediocre 9 for 31 (20 percent) from the field in the final 20 minutes, including 2 of 10 from 3-point range.
"They got into us. They pressured us big time," Nash said. "The teams we've faced earlier didn't do it us, so it was a shock to us. It's not like we're not used to it, the Big 12 is like that. But we shot the ball terribly and the blame's on us."
Just like in the first contest between the two teams at the start of the conference season, Rodney McGruder was clutch in the second half for the Wildcats. The senior guard scored 18 of his game-high 25 points to push Kansas State into Saturday's title game with rival Kansas.
OSU will now wait until Sunday to find out its next opponent when the NCAA tournament bracket is announced at 5 p.m.
"Every game we come out, we've got to play," Nash said. "It's lose or go home now. That's how we've got to face it every time we step on the court."