STILLWATER, Okla. — It’s no secret the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team had a rough stretch of games for nearly two months.
It’s also no secret the Cowboys are limited in their scholarship players to seven, and have been that way since mid-January.
But, the Cowboys have a chance to breathe fresh air – beginning Wednesday night in Kansas City, Missouri. So do the other nine teams at the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship.
“We have a new life,” OSU junior Lindy Waters said. “The regular season is over. We’ve got to go win it for our season to continue.”
The No. 9-seeded Cowboys will play No. 8 seed TCU at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Sprint Center in the opening game of the four-day tournament. The game will be aired on TV on ESPNU.
TCU (19-12) is projected as a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament, so a win Wednesday could be needed for the Horned Frogs to make the Big Dance. Meanwhile, the Cowboys must win four games in four days to earn an automatic NCAA Tournament bid to continue their season past this weekend.
“I don’t know if the record ever doesn’t matter, because we’re in ninth place and that’s why we’re playing Wednesday,” OSU men’s basketball coach Mike Boynton said. “We know that and we’re aware of that, but we also know this is a unique deal. It’s a tournament. It’s one game – you win, you move on; you lose, you don’t. That’s the approach we want to try and take – put ourselves in position to win on Wednesday and then see what happens from there.”
OSU (12-19) lost eight of nine games during a 34-day stretch in January and February where the only win came against Boynton’s alma mater South Carolina in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. It was a difficult time for the Cowboys, but they found a way to right the ship the past two weeks.
They dropped back-to-back close games at No. 11 Texas Tech – in overtime – and at home against Kansas. Since the lost to KU, the Cowboys have won two-straight games.
OSU won at Baylor last week, ending a seven-game skid against the Bears. On Saturday, OSU beat West Virginia to win back-to-back games for the first time since winning in Morgantown, West Virginia, on Jan. 12.
Saturday’s win has given the Cowboys confidence heading into this week’s tournament.
“I think the past two weeks we’ve been really competitive in practice,” Waters said. “Even though we didn’t get the win at Tech or Kansas, I thought we played well. We’ve just been getting better the past two weeks. We have all of the momentum.”
Boynton agreed, saying his team is playing its best basketball of the year heading into K.C.
“We know, as a collective group, what we’re capable of,” Boynton said. “Again, we have to be good together. When we have a game like we had Saturday where our offense is running well in a lot of different ways with a lot of guys contributing, we feel like we have a chance to compete against anybody in our league.”
OSU and TCU split their regular season contests, with each team winning at home. The Cowboys lost the game in Fort Worth, Texas, on a last-second layup before winning by seven at home just 12 days later.
Both teams will be aiming to win the tiebreaker Wednesday.
“It’s win or go home, so we’ve got to play with a sense of urgency every game, starting with TCU,” OSU freshman Yor Anei said.
The winner will play No. 1 seed Kansas State at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
“We can’t win the tournament on Wednesday, but we can extend our season,” Boynton said. “That’s the focus we have.”