Updated at: 03/06/2013 8:39 PM
By LUKE MEREDITH
(AP) AMES, Iowa - Oklahoma State has put itself in position for a strong run through the NCAA tournament by plowing through the Big 12 over the past six weeks.
A road loss to a desperate Iowa State squad that almost never loses at home shouldn’t do much to change that.
Senior Will Clyburn scored 20 points and Iowa State beat No. 13 Oklahoma State 87-76 on Wednesday night to bolster its NCAA tournament hopes.
Georges Niang added 18 points for the Cyclones (20-10, 10-7 Big 12), who notched just their second victory over a ranked opponent this season.
Marcus Smart was brilliant for Oklahoma State (22-7, 12-5), scoring 24 points with eight rebounds and five steals. But it wasn’t enough as the Cowboys lost for just the second time in 12 games.
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford dismissed any notion that the defeat added more urgency to Saturday’s game against No. 9 Kansas State, citing instead the Cowboys body of work of late.
"We’re having a good year. It was a tough game," Ford said. "We’ve got a lot of momentum. We’ve won a lot of games lately."
The Cowboys nearly won another one _ but Iowa State finally got key stops down the stretch.
Oklahoma State trailed by as many as 15 points, but Smart’s reverse dunk made it 70-68 with 4:28 left. Clyburn answered with a 3 and Tyrus McGee’s 3 a minute later put the Cyclones ahead 78-68.
"They kept responding. We never could quite get over the hump because they were really playing hard together and making plays," Ford said. "We were scratching and clawing and trying to get back in the game the whole time."
Oklahoma State’s last three wins were by an average of double digits and the Cowboys were rolling ahead of a key final league week against the Cyclones and the Wildcats.
There were only glimpses on Wednesday of the team that’s entered play just a double-OT loss at Kansas away from an 11-game winning streak.
The Cowboys got within 67-64 after two steals by Smart led to two baskets. Smart made it a two-point game with his reverse in transition, but Clyburn’s response gave the Cyclones the school record for 3s in a season.
Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown both had 14 points for the Cowboys, who shot an abysmal 4 of 23 from 3-point range. But Smart looked more than ready for March with a performance that had Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg gushing.
"He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve coached against. Just to see the way he approaches the game. He’s just a wonderful kid. He makes everybody around him better," Hoiberg said.
Oklahoma State was just one of four teams to rally from behind and beat Iowa State in the final minute this season.
The Cyclones did their best to ensure they wouldn’t be in such a position again.
Iowa State, which blew a lead in the final minute and lost on Smart’s buzzer-beater on Jan. 30, started the game on a 30-15 run. Niang buoyed the early spurt with 12 points, and Iowa State held the Cowboys scoreless on nine tries from 3-point range in building a 10-point halftime lead.
Niang swatted away an alley-oop pass before it got anywhere near the rim to open the second half. Clyburn followed with a transition 3, and Iowa State was off and running again.
McGee finished with 14 points and Melvin Ejim had 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Cyclones.
The loss shouldn’t impact Oklahoma State’s postseason outlook all that much. The Cowboys faced an uphill climb in moving past Kansas and Kansas State in the Big 12 standings anyway, and they will get another chance at a marquee win against K-State on Saturday.
"We want to play better than we did. There’s no question," Ford said. `We don’t feel too good about ourselves, and as I told the team they shouldn’t feel good about this performance. We need to play Saturday, but I think we’re still in pretty good shape."
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