Survive and advance.
That is a commonly used phrase in college basketball every March and Oklahoma State was the embodiment of it on Thursday.
Phil Forte sank a pair of free throws with 2.9 seconds left before Baylor's Pierre Jackson came up short on a last-second 3-point attempt to give No. 14 OSU a heart-stopping 74-72 victory at the Sprint Center.
Prior to tip off, Marcus Smart accepted his Big 12 Player of the Year award at midcourt but, by the time the final buzzer sounded, it was Le'Bryan Nash who kept third-seeded Oklahoma State alive in the conference tournament.
Aside from Forte's game-winning free throws, Nash was the Cowboys' lone bright spot in an otherwise abysmal second half.
Nash scored just one point on 0-for-4 shooting in the first half as the Cowboys built a 42-24 lead at the break. But he didn't get down on himself and that was a good thing for the Pokes, as the sophomore forward was responsible for all six of the team's converted field goals in the second half.
The rest of the Cowboy roster shot a collective 0-for-8 from the floor as Baylor rallied behind Jackson's 24 second-half points to erase OSU's massive lead.
The Bears completed their comeback with 19 seconds remaining when Gary Franklin drained a corner 3-pointer and was fouled by Forte on the shot. He converted the free throw to knot the game up at 72-72 before Forte was able to redeem himself by getting to the foul line for the game-saving free throws.
It was an odd drop off for the Pokes even though the team has struggled to put teams away all season. It was truly a tale of two halves.
The first half was an exercise in pure dominance by OSU. The Cowboys befuddled the Bears with their full-court trap and lockdown defense, limiting BU to 25 percent shooting and seven turnovers, including an 0-of-13 performance from 3-point range.
OSU shot 55 percent and was passing the ball efficiently, leading to several uncontested shots and a dominant transition game.
Then it all changed.
The Pokes didn't hit a shot for the first 6:36 of the second half, allowing BU to find a bit of life and trim its deficit to just nine before Nash connected on a jumper with 13:24 remaining.
Nash hit another shot on the ensuing possession but that would be the Pokes' last field goal for a ludicrous 8 minutes and 31 seconds of game time. By the time Nash converted a layup with 3:50 left, BU had cut the lead to just four.
One positive for OSU was its ability to get to the foul line, where OSU did the majority of its scoring, going to 20-for-26 from the line in the second half alone.
For all the second half mistakes, poor shooting and lackluster defense, OSU was able to secure the most important aspect of the game – the victory.
Despite not hitting a shot after halftime, Marcus Smart still managed to lead OSU in scoring with 21 points on just 4-of-12 shooting and 2-of-6 from 3 thanks to converting 11-of-14 free throws. Smart had five rebounds but struggled with just two assists against six turnovers, four of which came in the second half. He also had a pair of breakaway first-half slams on his two steals that drew oohs and aahs from the Kansas City crowd.
Nash scored 14 points, 13 of which came in the second, and Forte also finished with 14. Markel Brown scored 11 on 3-of-7 shooting and was aggressive against a much taller Baylor team with seven rebounds. Michael Cobbins chipped in 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Jackson led the Bears (18-14) with 31 points despite scoring just seven on 2-of-11 shooting in the opening half. He was on fire in the second, shooting 6-of-10 and forced the issue by getting to the foul line, where he hit 13-of-14. A.J. Walton had 13 points and Cory Jefferson scored 10 for Baylor.
With the win the Cowboys advance to the Big 12 semifinals against No. 2 seed Kansas State on Friday at 9 p.m. OSU beat then-No. 9 ranked KSU this past Saturday 76-70 in Stillwater.
Kansas and Iowa State will meet in the other semifinal matchup on Friday.