Into the Lion's Den

Jordan Tolbert

Texas Tech must regroup from a tough one-point loss to Kansas and travel to what is sure to be a hostile crowd in Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State and the conveniently just-reinstated Marcus Smart.

Texas Tech (13-13 5-8) versus Oklahoma State (16-10 4-9)

Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Oklahoma

When: 12:30 p.m. (CT), Saturday

TV: Big 12 Network (U-Verse 14, Suddenlink 6, DirecTV 640, Dish 432)

Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network from Learfield Sports

The Matchup: A season that began with the Oklahoma State Cowboys dreaming of a trip to the Final Four has turned into a borderline disaster instead. OSU lost starting center Michael Cobbins to a knee injury and the Cowboys' rebounding suffered accordingly. Then, in the waning moments of a loss to Texas Tech, Naismith Award candidate Marcus Smart shoved a Red Raider fan and was duly suspended for three games by the Big 12. And as of the present, the Cowboys are mired in a seven-game losing streak, and actually trail Tech in the conference standings.

But OSU fortunes could easily change for the better when the Red Raiders come to town. Conveniently, Smart returns from suspension just in time for the Tech game, and there can be no doubt whatsoever that, for all sorts of reasons, this game will be intense in all caps.

Smart brings back to the table his 18 points, six rebounds and two steals per game. Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash and shooting ace Phil Forte are the other headliners of what still is as talented a team as there is in the Big 12.

For Texas Tech, the keys to this game are mental more than physical. The Red Raiders have already proved to themselves that they are physically capable of handling whatever the Cowboys dish out. And that certainty can only have been bolstered by Tech's excruciatingly close loss to the Kansas Jayhawks last time out.

So the Red Raiders have the physical tools to win this game. But how will they handle the hellish maelstrom of emotion that awaits them in Stillwater?

Clearly, Tech must avoid the early knockout blow. Oklahoma State will do everything in its power to bury the Red Raiders in the first five minutes of the game. If Tech can keep from falling behind by 20 points or more in the first half, they have a chance. After all, rebounding from large deficits, even on the road, has been a specialty of this team. But it is one thing to come back from a large deficit; it is another to finish the comeback with an actual win. The latter has been a problem for the Red Raiders. So, all things considered, Tech would do well to not fall into any sort of deep hole in Stillwater.

Tech Player to Watch: Can Jordan Tolbert string together two good games in a row? It's been a while since he's done so, but following an outstanding effort against Kansas, he's got the opportunity to do just that against OSU. Tech already enjoys an advantage over the Cowboys inside. A big game by Tolbert could make that advantage decisive.

Oklahoma State Player to Watch: All eyes will be on Marcus Smart. Sitting out three games will not encumber him with rust, but you can be certain that his resentment has been building during the suspension. How will that resentment manifest itself in the game? Channeled wisely, it could lead to a career best day. But if Smart's emotions get out of hand, they could result in a meltdown for the mercurial player and his team.

Notable: Texas Tech has not won in Stillwater since 2003.

Quotable: "If I was a basketball fan in this part of the state, I would buy into what Tubby [Smith] and his staff are trying to do. The guy knows how to win; he's a proven winner." —Kansas head coach Bill Self

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