AUSTIN, Texas -- With less than three minutes left, the taunting was brief and almost merciful.
“Where is Marcus?”
The chant came from a small contingent of Texas fans standing under the basket, and lasted no more than one Oklahoma State possession. In this Frank Erwin Center crowd more than half-gone amid a blowout, everyone could hear it.
“Where is Marcus?”
Marcus Smart wasn’t in the building. As mandated by his three-game suspension, he couldn’t travel with his Cowboys to Austin. And without their star, an Oklahoma State team whose season is spiraling looked even more lost.
The Cowboys took their fifth straight loss, this one a 87-68 road beatdown from No. 19 Texas. With or without its star player, this team has now lost six of its last seven games.
“This has nothing to do with Marcus Smart. He wasn’t here tonight,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “So we had to play with what we’ve got. We can’t get caught up in any of that, to be honest with you. I don’t even really want to talk about it. Doesn’t do us any good. This team has to form its own identity and get out there and play.”
The result might’ve been no different had the Pokes had Smart on the court. Texas (19-5, 8-3 Big 12) came out firing and stayed hot throughout, draining 11 3-pointers on the night and leading by as much as 29 at one point.
This one fell apart quickly on Oklahoma State, (16-8, 4-7), which gave up 54 first-half points to a team that had scored a total of 57 and 59 in its previous two games and was missing its top scorer, Jonathan Holmes, to a knee injury.
The result: The Longhorns ran off to leads as big as 36-14, 49-25 and 54-28 en route to a season-best half. Javan Felix answered the challenge, dropping 17 of his game-high 27 in the first half and hitting a career-high six 3-pointers.
“Give Texas credit. They’re a team that’s last in the Big 12 in 3-pointers made and they go out and make 11 threes,” Ford said. “So they played well, they made shots, they did a great job moving the ball.”
Ford liked how his team responded in the second half, with more physical defense and better aggression on both ends, but there was no chipping away at a 21-point halftime deficit.
“We just waited until the second half to start playing how we know how to play,” OSU center Kamari Murphy said. “It was too late by then.”
In three weeks, Oklahoma State has gone from No. 9 in the nation to unranked and eighth place in the Big 12, a staggering slide that got worse Saturday when Smart shoved Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr at the end of a 65-61 loss in Lubbock and received a three-game ban as punishment.
“There was no way I would’ve thought we would’ve won the game the way we did. They’ve got a good team and it’s a tough situation for them,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “I really feel for Travis and their team. This is a team that, you talk about Murphy’s Law, what can go wrong has. But there’s still a lot of basketball left to play.”
Ford isn’t making excuses, but the days following that incident haven’t been easy. The Cowboys didn’t practice on Sunday and arrived in Austin late on Monday after a flight delay. They got in just one practice, around 6 p.m. Monday, to prepare for their stint without Smart.
Add up the loss of Smart, starting center Michael Cobbins (ruptured Achilles) and guard Stevie Clark, who was dismissed from the program last week, and you’re left with a brutally thin team in need of help.
OSU had no bench players averaging more than 1 point per game available on Tuesday, and just six players who averaged more than 5 minutes per game in Big 12 play.
“I hope we will be better Saturday as far as comfortability,” Ford said. “We had guys out there who hadn’t played very much.”
Added Murphy: “We knew that we would have to get extreme effort from other players that we aren’t used to.”
And now Oklahoma State is staring down a fate the program can’t get used to: Missing the NCAA tournament for a third time in four years. The road ahead doesn’t look any easier and it starts with a meeting with rival Oklahoma on Saturday.
“We’re going through a tough time right now,” Murphy said. “I think everybody in the locker room still has their head in winning. We’re not down, not blaming nobody else, not making excuses. We just have to find some way on the team, somewhere in our heart, to win a game.”
The question after Tuesday isn’t really, “Where is Marcus?” No, the better question is: Who are these Cowboys without him? They received a brutal and honest answer on Tuesday.