MANHATTAN, Kan. — Oklahoma State forward Le’Bryan Nash may have given Kansas State the ultimate compliment when he stepped out of the locker room after a 74-71 loss to open Big 12 play on Saturday.
"They just outplayed us. They played hard every time. They don’t care what the situation is, they just play. That’s what we need to do," he said. "We played tentative and we need to play hard every game. That’s what I’m going to do from now on. Play 100 percent and give 100 percent."
Nash scored 20 points, Markel Brown finished with 16 and Marcus Smart added 15 for the Cowboys (12-2, 0-1), who still had a chance to tie the game just before the final buzzer sounded.
Nino Williams made two free throws with 5.7 seconds left to give Kansas State a three-point lead, and Smart quickly raced up the court. The Cowboys’ leading scorer got a decent look from the wing, but his running 3-point attempt clanked off the rim as the game ended.
"They executed on the offensive end, but we just didn’t execute on our end," Smart said. "We ran plays and we called plays to give people shots and we missed it or couldn’t capitalize."
Marcus Foster scored 17 points, Williams finished with 15 and Thomas Gipson had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats (11-3, 1-0), who have now won nine straight games after losing to the likes of Northern Colorado and Charlotte earlier in the season.
"Just a great win, a gutsy win by our guys," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. "I’m not sure we were real pretty at times, they seemed to control the game, they’d get up five, we made a couple plays, we’d tie or take the lead, and then they’d go back up. … We got stops when it counted."
The Cowboys were playing without two key players.
Michael Cobbins, their best big man, sustained a season-ending Achilles injury on Monday, and freshman guard Stevie Clark — their second-leading scorer off the bench — did not play after he was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession on Wednesday.
"This was going to be an adjustment game," Cowboys coach Travis Ford said. "It’s been a tough week. We lost a major part of our team. We have to adjust."
he Wildcats, who’ve made a habit of pummeling opponents during their win streak, tried to wear down the short-handed Cowboys in the first half. They pawed and pressed and got physical with Smart and Nash as much as possible, and both of them were clearly frustrated.
Both of them also picked up two fouls late in the first half.
Kansas State was unable to take advantage of the brief stretch in which both sat on the bench, though. Foster scored in the waning seconds of the half to put the Wildcats in front, but the Cowboys raced up court and Brown managed to curl in a layup at the buzzer for a 38-37 lead.
The senior dished a bit of attitude at the Kansas State student section as he left the floor.
Oklahoma State tried to extend the lead early in the second half, and Smart’s dunk and foul with about 13 minutes left provided a cushion. But Smart decided to do a chin-up on the rim and slap the backboard after his slam, and he was hit with a technical — his fourth foul of the game.
While he took a seat, the Wildcats started to gather momentum.
Shane Southwell hit a 3 from in front of his own bench to knot the game 52-all with just over 9 minutes left, his first points of the game. A few minutes later, Nash picked up his fourth foul, and Cowboys coach Travis Ford put Smart back in the game.
The Wildcats went right at him, and Smart wisely backed down on a couple of occasions to avoid picking up his fifth foul. That allowed the Wildcats to surge ahead, taking a 65-60 lead when Foster slashed through the lane and curled in a layup with 3 minutes remaining.
That matched the biggest lead of the game, and the gritty Wildcats managed to hit just enough free throws — and make just enough stops — to hold on at the end.
"We felt like that was one of the toughest games we’ve played so far," Gipson said. "For us to be young and come out and get a huge win against the No. 6 team in the nation, that feels real good."