By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
With a Big 12 Conference championship still in sight for Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball team, a different Big 12 foe comes into Gallagher-Iba Arena Saturday than the one the Cowboys faced nearly a month ago.
The Texas Longhorns, who were mired in mediocrity when OSU traveled to Texas and returned to Stillwater with a 72-59 win, come in upset minded after a big overtime victory over Oklahoma on Monday — in which the Longhorns rallied from 20 points down in the closing seven minutes of regulation to top the Sooners, who are still looking to earn a first-round bye in the Big 12 tournament.
“They are coming in here with a lot of confidence right now,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “... I’ve been a part of those games and I know what it feels like. Incredible comeback, great energy from Texas and they did it with defense and offense. Very impressive comeback.”
The biggest difference with this Texas team compared to the Longhorn squad that hit the court Feb. 9 to face Oklahoma State is the return of Myck Kabongo from a 23-game suspension for violating NCAA regulations. Kabongo, who earned a spot on the Big 12 All-Rookie Team last year, is averaging 18.6 points since his return — six points higher than Texas’ leading scorer in its 15 conference games — and scored 31 points in the victory over the Sooners.
“They are 3-2 with Kabongo and averaging almost 74 points per game with him in the lineup,” Ford said. “That kept me up last night on the way back home (from TCU) and the early morning.”
Kabongo won’t be the only difference maker coming off a big performance when OSU and Texas face off at 3 p.m. Saturday in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
The Cowboys are hoping Le'Bryan Nash is starting to find some consistency with the postseason right around the corner. The sophomore from Dallas scored a career-high 28 points in OSU’s victory over TCU on Wednesday — his second 25-plus point outburst in the past four games to give him 19.5 scoring average in that time.
“It’s great (when we can get him going). It opens up a lot of things for other players,” freshman point guard Marcus Smart said. “It opens up things for me, for Markel (Brown), Phil (Forte), it opens up a lot of things because teams are going to be focused on Le’Bryan. Everybody knows Le’Bryan is a great player, so if he gets hot it is going to be hard to stop him.”
Nash is averaging 13.8 points for the season and 13.3 in conference play, but admits he is working to become more consistent — as he has scored under double digits in six of OSU’s 15 conference games.
“My offense doesn’t always work out for me, so I’ve got to attack the rim. That’s the mindset I’ve got to have going into every game,” Nash said.