STILLWATER, Okla. — Byron Eaton heard all the rumors about how Kansas coach Bill Self was going to return to Oklahoma State to take over for Sean Sutton. Then he made a statement to try to prevent it from happening.
Eaton scored a career-high 26 points, including the game-winning free throw with 12.6 seconds left, and Oklahoma State knocked No. 4 Kansas out of first place in the Big 12 with a 61-60 upset on Saturday.
“I’ve been hearing things about when Coach Sean is out at the end of the season, and I don’t want that to happen,” said Eaton, a junior point guard. “I’m going to try to do whatever I can do for my coach to stay here and for me to have a great senior year.
“If they still do that and it happens, it happens. But I’m going to fight for my coach.”
Eaton was fouled by Sasha Kaun as he drove to the basket, and he made the first free throw before missing the second.
Kansas grabbed the rebound and worked the ball to Brandon Rush, but he missed a 3-pointer from the left corner before fans rushed the court to celebrate the Cowboys’ third straight victory.
“It just comes down to heart. We out-toughed them, and I think we wanted it more than they did,” Eaton said.
Earlier this week, Self called the rumors that he would return to his alma mater “not something that’s even worth talking about. It’s a dead issue.”
The Jayhawks (24-3, 9-3) rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to go ahead 58-54 in the final 3 minutes. But Oklahoma State (14-12, 5-7) finished strong to knock Kansas out of a first-place tie with No. 7 Texas, which beat Oklahoma 62-45 on Saturday.
Marcus Dove hit a 3-pointer to put the Cowboys ahead 60-58 with 58 seconds left, and Oklahoma City native Darnell Jackson made a spinning layup from the left block with 41 seconds remaining to tie it at 60.
Eaton then slowed the pace before charging into the lane and drawing a whistle under the basket. He went 16-for-18 from the free throw line for the game and set a career-best in scoring for the second time in a three-game span.
“We stunk,” Self said. “We stunk in large part because of OSU and in large part because of the crowd too. We didn’t play with much poise.”
Jackson led Kansas with 16 points and 10 rebounds while playing three days after his 19-year-old cousin, Kascey Corie McClellan, died after getting shot earlier this month at an Oklahoma City nightclub. Backup guard Rodrick Stewart also played three days after Allen Stewart, his cousin and adopted brother, was shot and killed in Seattle.
Rush added 12 points, all in the second half, and Mario Chalmers scored 11. Darrell Arthur, Kansas’ leading scorer, matched his season low with six points before fouling out with 6:04 remaining.
“I don’t know that we were distracted, but we certainly gave the appearance of being distracted and not as focused because we made a lot, a lot, a lot of mental mistakes,” said Self, whose team has lost three of its last four road games.
The Jayhawks committed 21 turnovers, one below their season-high. They turned it over on six of their first 10 possessions and had 14 turnovers by halftime, when they trailed 36-32—their largest halftime deficit this season.
“I felt like we were out of rhythm the whole game. We weren’t all on the same page,” Jackson said. “I don’t know what it is, but we need to find it out and work through that so we all can stay on the same page because we played terrible today.”
Obi Muonelo had 12 points for Oklahoma State, which has won four of five after its worst start in Big 12 history. Eaton has averaged 22.7 points over the past three games, including back-to-back wins against ranked opponents. The Cowboys won at Texas A&M a week earlier.
“Sean’s doing a good job. That’s a sign of a coach is when things aren’t going well and the team starts playing better, especially late in the season,” Self said.
“A lot of times it’s tough to get a team back in when things aren’t going well. He’s obviously doing a good job.”
After using a 10-2 run to go up 46-37 with 13:22 remaining, the Cowboys started isolating Eaton and having him drain the shot clock before driving. Self was disappointed that his players, who were supposed to trap Eaton, kept fouling him.
“We wanted to stay aggressive but also eat up some time and try to make it more difficult for them,” Sutton said. “He stayed aggressive and got to the free throw line.”
With his recent play, Eaton has the Cowboys back in the middle of the pack in the Big 12.
“We all just pulled together and made some big shots, and I did what I’ve been doing the last few games, just trying to play my hardest and trying to carry my team through whatever we have to go through …,” Eaton said.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I need to do for my team to win so we can get to the NCAA tournament.”