Texas' latest loss was barely over when a fan leaving the Frank Erwin Center turned at the top of the stairs and shouted, "We need you Kabongo!"
He was talking about Myck Kabongo, the Longhorns' talented point guard who been missing the last 23 games while serving out an NCAA suspension for accepting impermissible benefits and providing false statements during an investigation into the infractions. .
Saturday's 72-59 loss to No. 22 Oklahoma State was the last game of that suspension and Longhorns coach Rick Barnes immediately promised that Kabongo will start when Texas plays Iowa State on Wednesday night.
Texas certainly needs something to turn around its worst season in 15 years under Barnes. Maybe Kabongo, a player some have projected as a possible first-round NBA draft pick, can be the spark to ignite it.
"There's no doubt he will start," Barnes said shortly after describing himself as "baffled" by Texas' latest defeat.
The Longhorns shot 39 percent, were just 1 of 18 from 3-point range and went 12 of 21 from the free throw line against Oklahoma State. Freshman point guard Javan Felix, who has been forced to handle those duties in Kabongo's absence, had eight turnovers against just one assist, an effort Barnes called his "worst game" of the season.
Ioannis Papapetrou scored 15 points to lead Texas (10-13, 2-8 Big 12). Sheldon McClellan, Texas' leading scorer this season, didn't score in the first half and finished with four points.
"They came in here fearless and really took it from us," Papapetrou said. "We didn't show up. We're embarrassed. More than frustrated, we're embarrassed."
The Cowboys (17-5, 7-3) have certainly been a roll with five straight wins that included tough victories over Kansas and Baylor. The latest come on the shoulders of freshman Marcus Smart, who won two Texas state high school championships on the same court and returned for the first time to score 23 points.
"I have a great feeling for this gym," Smart said. "If felt great coming back."
Markel Brown added 17 points and Le'Bryan Nash had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Cowboys.
Despite its stumbles, Texas has still been able to use tough defense to force teams to grind out possessions looking for good shots. The Longhorns held Oklahoma State to 32 percent shooting in the first half.
But Smart muscled his way to 11 points in the first half then dismantled Texas in the opening minutes of the second as the Cowboys asserted control.
A steal led to a fast break dunk before two free throws and a 3-pointer helped put the Cowboys ahead 42-30. Even when Texas could get physical with the Cowboys, Smart used his muscular frame to force his way past defenders for an easy floater in the lane, or step out for one of his three 3-pointers.
Brown scored six straight points in a 60-second burst that all but settled the game for the Cowboys. A dunk off a miss and a layup off a nifty pass under the basket from Smart put the Cowboys up by 14 points with about 8 minutes to play.
"It was a good win on the road. We respect Texas so much," Nash said. "We just keep trying to climb that ladder. We have great team chemistry."