STILLWATER, Okla. — After suffering through Oklahoma State’s first losing season in 24 years, forward Le’Bryan Nash watched last year’s NCAA tournament with one thought on his mind: “We’ve got to be there next year.”
With Nash and Big 12 player of the year Marcus Smart leading the way, the Cowboys (24-8) are on the bracket for the first time in three years and will play Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon on Thursday in San Jose, Calif. Oklahoma State received a No. 5 seed, its best in three trips under coach Travis Ford and the highest since getting seeded second in 2005.
“It’s just so great to be in the NCAA tournament,” Nash said Sunday after the pairings were announced. “Not the NIT. Not not in the tournament like we was last year. Now, we’re playing in March. Last year, we weren’t playing in March. Now we are, and we’re part of the madness. Can we go far in the tournament? It’s up to us.”
The Cowboys have high hopes after winning 11 of their last 13 regular-season games and finishing third in the Big 12, then losing to Kansas State in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
“We played two of the No. 1 seeds, and I think we only lost to both of them by one,” said Nash, correctly remembering that OSU lost 69-68 to Gonzaga on New Year’s Eve and 68-67 to Kansas in double overtime. The Cowboys also won at Kansas. “That just shows how good we are and how we can make a run in this tournament if we just believe in each other.”
Oklahoma State has improved dramatically after going 15-18 last season while dealing with a series of injuries and player departures. Smart and high-school teammate Phil Forte came in and immediately made an impact,
“We’ve kind of proven that we deserve to be there, but that all goes out the window now,” Smart said. “Whatever’s in the past is in the past. We have a new goal to reach and to start a new legacy of Oklahoma State. The first game is Thursday.”