By The Associated Press
STILLWATER, Okla.— Frank Haith understood the dangers that came along with Missouri earning its highest ranking in a decade just before what looked like a lull in the schedule.
If it hadn’t already, the lesson certainly settled in with his players as Oklahoma State’s fans stormed the court in celebration of a 79-72 upset of the second-ranked Tigers on Wednesday night.
Freshman swingman Le’Bryan Nash scored a career-high 27 points, Brian Williams added a career-best 22 and Oklahoma State shot an uncharacteristic 59 percent from the field to hand Mizzou (18-2, 5-2 Big 12) only its second loss of the season.
“When you play on the road and you’ve got the bull’s eye on your chest, you’re going to get everybody’s best effort. We’ve stressed that with our guys,” said Haith, the Tigers’ first-year head coach. “We understand that we were going to get Oklahoma State’s very best effort tonight, and we did. We got their very best effort. They didn’t get our very best effort.”
Nash scored 13 points during a 17-4 burst that sent the Cowboys (10-10, 3-4 Big 12) into the lead in the final 4 minutes and the Tigers didn’t have a response.
Nash hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to get it going, then nailed another 3 from the left side to give the Cowboys a 65-64 lead with 3:23 to play. He connected on another 29 seconds later and ran to the opposite end of the court when Missouri called timeout to encourage a student section that was already hopping up and down to bring it on.
When the clock hit zero, the students rushed the court and huddled around Oklahoma State’s players at midcourt.
The Tigers had been on a high after scoring an 89-88 win at then-No. 3 Baylor on Saturday, the program’s first road win over a top-five team since 1994. Then came a big low.
“In our league, one win or one loss can’t determine the rest of the week because you’ve got to play another good team,” said Marcus Denmon, who scored 17 points on 4-for-16 shooting.
“We’ve got to regain our focus and get ready for the next game on Saturday.”
Ricardo Ratliffe had 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead Missouri, which came in ranked second in the nation by making 51 percent of its shots this season. The Cowboys were last in the Big 12 at 41 percent and hadn’t surpassed 49 percent against an NCAA opponent all season.
But the roles ended up being reversed.
“We were allowing them to be where they wanted. We didn’t have enough physicality against them … and I think we were avoiding contact as opposed to attacking,” Haith said.
Missouri got steals on three straight possessions to fuel a 10-2 run in the first 5 minutes of the second half, taking a 48-41 lead when Ratliffe waited out two defenders leaping prematurely to block his shot at the left block before scoring the basket.
Ratliffe’s three-point play off a spinning bucket at the right block gave the Tigers their largest lead at 53-45 with 14:22 to play but it didn’t last.
“We didn’t do what we needed to do to finish the game out once we got control of the game,” Haith said.
Nash had a bucket off a baseline inbounds pass and another off a post-up move against Kim English to get Oklahoma State within striking distance.
Markel Brown added another energizing play with a right-handed dunk off an alley-oop but got called for his second technical foul for getting in Matt Pressey’s face and was ejected. Denmon hit the two free throws from the technical and Ratliffe added two more off a third-chance opportunity to push the lead back to 60-53, but the Cowboys didn’t miss a beat.
After Nash’s big spurt, Williams had a two-handed dunk in transition and a three-point play to help preserve the lead down the stretch.
It continued a rough stretch for Top 25 Missouri teams in Gallagher-Iba Arena. The Tigers have lost six straight games while ranked in Stillwater, dating back to 1992, and may not be visiting again anytime soon with next season’s move to the Southeastern Conference.
Four of those six losses have come at the hands of unranked Oklahoma State teams.
“You fight against that with any team that you have that has success … and you talk about it,” Haith said. “You get into the game, it’s hard to change the flow.”
Brown provided a boost right from the start with a thunderous right-handed jam on Oklahoma State’s first possession after winning the tip. He picked up a technical foul 90 seconds into the game that seemed inconsequential at the time but eventually led to his dismissal.
OSU made 57 percent of its shots in the first half and led 37-36 after Page’s step-back jumper from the left elbow with a second left.
The first half marked the third-best shooting performance in a half this season for Oklahoma State, only to be outdone by a season-best 62 percent mark after halftime.
“They played loose and easy. They had nothing to lose,” Haith said. “Obviously, they’re just trying to get a ‘W’ in the conference, and I think when you’re young, that could have an impact on it. When you’re experienced, we have to have an impact on them. We didn’t play like an experienced team tonight.”
The Tigers face Texas Tech on Saturday at Mizzou Arena with a scheduled 12:30 p.m. tip-off time.