KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Minutes after getting beat for only the second time this season Baylor beat itself up.
"I don't want to say it like this but we needed that loss in a way," senior Mark Vital said following an 83-74 loss to Oklahoma State in a Big 12 Tournament semifinal that should echo through the bracket from now until Sunday afternoon. "Everybody says that but we do [need it]. We came here with the mindset that we were already the champions of the Big 12. We have to change our mindset back to getting hungry."
Can you feel it? The outlook nationally is being switched everywhere from what have you done this season to what can you do. The NCAA Tournament starts next week. Pretenders need not apply.
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The second-ranked Bears (22-2) continue to be one of those teams with a chance to win it all. The loss will do nothing to impact their expected No. 1 seed. CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm kept Baylor on the No. 1 seed-line and didn't move them from their position as the No. 2 national seed after the loss. But the upset was not only the biggest of this week but one of the biggest of the season. The Bears aren't playing bad, just not their best.
In Vital, Jared Butler and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Davion Mitchell, they have one of the best trios in the country. But Oklahoma State showed unusual depth and better effort down the stretch. Backup guard Isaac Likekele was plus-15 in 37 minutes. Forward Kalib Boone was a plus-17 with six blocks and 10 points.
That's before mentioning Big 12 player of the year Cade Cunningham's 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
"I don't know how to explain it. It's just a different feeling this year," Likekele said.
It certainly has been a different feeling lately. The Cowboys won for the eighth time in nine games. (The only loss is to Baylor.) The last three wins have been over top 10 opponents. Saturday marked the Pokes 10th Quad 1 win. On the 85th birthday of legendary coach Eddie Sutton they advanced to the Big 12 Tournament Championship game for the first time since 2005. Sutton passed away last May.
Baylor, though, was the focus afterward. The Bears started 18-0 before COVID-19 ravaged the team and caused the Bears to pause for three weeks in February. They lost to Kansas coming out of that break and now are a 4-2 down the stretch heading into the NCAA Tournament. That's why Vital wasn't finished.
"I want them to feel it. I've been through it. I've lost in the tournament," he said. "I want my guys to feel that loss, have that edge going into the next game.
"We're still one of the best teams in the country. We took a licking. We'll get back up. Muhammad Ali did it a lot."
Friday was a sucker punch of sorts. Baylor had beaten the Cowboys 11 of the last 12 going back to 2016. The Bears had won the two regular-season meetings by a combined 26 points.
Oklahoma State (20-7) got out and ran at every opportunity seeming to surprise the Bears. Cunningham, the Big 12 Player of the Year, scored 11 of his 25 points in the final 5 ½ minutes. Avery Anderson, the Cowboys' third scoring option, dropped in 20 giving him 68 points in the last three games.
"I hope we continue to dispel this notion that we're Cade and this bunch of puppets," Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said.
It was Anderson's fearless and-one drive to the basket that resulted in a three-point play with 2:09 left that gave the Cowboys a one-point lead they would never give up.
"There's never a good time to lose," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "But it's better to lose now than in the NCAA Tournament so I would agree with that. We will have an extra day of rest.
"It's like putting your hand on a stove and it burns you, for a while you don't put your hand back on that hot stove. When you get a loss you don't like that feeling."
Oklahoma State earned it, something their championship game opponent Texas can't say. The Longhorns got a bye to their first Big 12 Tournament championship game since 2011 after Kansas was forced to drop out Friday's other semifinal because of COVID-19 protocols.
KU joined Virginia and Duke in being knocked out of their conference tournaments by the coronavirus. Hope floats among the game's stewards can nudge the NCAA Tournament to its conclusion next month through without interruption.
"The whole season has given us pause," Boynton said. "But you can only do so much. It's not like the virus is just going to disappear.
Five months after cutting down the nets, the Cowboys are closer than ever to … cutting down the nets. Boynton has a tradition of having his players grab a ladder and snip away at the hoop during each preseason.
"He told us, 'This is what the goal is. It's going to be a long road, a lot of ups and downs," Cunningham said. "He said we should see how far we take it."
They took it to the end of the Big 12 season, at least.
"I believe in the law of attraction. You've got to see yourself doing it before you can put it into action," Boynton said. "I wanted to set a tone with this team with what we were capable of doing. We haven't talked about it since but here we are."