This battle, symbolically, might have been won months ago.
While Kansas University's young basketball team tripped out of the gate, wiped off the dirt and cruised through the stretch run of the season, Oklahoma State was playing catch-up with equal inexperience.
That cost the Cowboys in a 63-62 loss to KU on Friday in a Big 12 Conference tournament quarterfinal in American Airlines Center.
"We matured a little later than Kansas, which was a young team also," OSU guard JamesOn Curry said. "If we were playing this way three or four weeks ago, we would be in the NCAA Tournament, and we'd be a dangerous team (like Kansas)."
Instead, it was Kansas that ruined OSU's bid for the automatic NCAA Tournament berth, likely knocking the Cowboys (17-15) into the NIT.
"I agree with that," OSU head coach designate Sean Sutton said of Curry's statement. "Their three freshmen, (Mario) Chalmers, (Brandon) Rush and (Julian) Wright, have all made unbelievable improvement in my opinion. Our guys were just a little bit slower to mature."
One of those young players who finally did grow up was freshman Byron Eaton, who led all scorers with 18 points. His last bucket was a three-pointer that danced around the rim forever before falling through with 1.3 seconds left. Perhaps a swish would've given OSU just enough time for a quick foul and one last attempt to tie or win.
But, again, it was too little, too late.
"The two areas where we have continued to struggle is turning the basketball over and scoring droughts," Sutton said, "and both of those showed up at key times tonight."
Oklahoma State didn't seem devastated by NIT likelihood, which would snap a stretch of eight straight NCAA Tournament berths for one of the Big 12's top programs.
"Look at the team last year that won it: Memphis," Curry said. "This year, they are going to be a 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. : It's a great opportunity for our team to go down there and get better and start getting ready for next season."