STILLWATER — Le'Bryan Nash stood flanked on every side by Oklahoma State students, fully immersed in the moment.
And his own happiness.
And there was joy to go around Saturday, with the No. 13 Cowboys taking down No. 9 Kansas State 76-70 before a giddy Gallagher-Iba Arena sellout crowd of 13,611.
OSU closed the regular season at 23-7 overall and 13-5 in the Big 12, joining just two previous Cowboys teams in history to win as many conference games. And OSU clinched sole possession of third place in the Big 12, as well as the No. 3 seed in next week's Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
So the celebration was on, with players and students and alums all bouncing and beaming together.
And no one seemed happier than Nash, the oft-maligned talent who has never seemed more comfortable in his role — a tasty thought for the Cowboys as they enter the postseason with more options and weapons than at any time this season.
Saturday, Nash's role was to take apart the Wildcats, which he did with an attacking offensive game that produced a game-high 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting, mostly slashing drives to the basket that not only paid off for him, but for his teammates who followed the lead.
“For me, I just had to get my mindset right,” Nash said. “I just kept telling myself to keep attacking the rim. I told my teammates, too; I told them to keep it going and keep taking it to the hole.
“That's what we did. We kept attacking the rim, and it got us back in the game.”
Nash was talking about OSU's game-changing surge, answering K-State's run into the lead in the second half, at a time when the Cowboys had started resorting to jump shots. Nash took it to the Wildcats for six points in an 11-0 spurt that regained momentum.
But Nash might as well have been talking about his evolved mindset in this season, as he's put together arguably the best stretch of his career; a stretch marked by consistency and consistent energy.
“LB has learned that he isn't the greatest 3-point shooter, and that's nothing against him,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “I don't mind when he's hot and rolling for him to shoot a 3, if that's his fourth or fifth shot after he's made four or five.
“What he has figured out is that he likes to score and he wants to score with those percentages. He's realized he doesn't have to shoot 3s and he hasn't been shooting 3s for a while.
“LB's understanding of what we need from him has drastically improved, and tonight I thought he was unbelievable, tremendous."
And Nash was vital during that defining stretch of the game, when the Cowboys became the aggressor.
OSU had led 36-30 at the half, before the Wildcats went on a 20-5 run into a 50-41 lead, taking it to the Cowboys who had suddenly lost their way on the offensive end. A pair of Ford timeouts refocused the Cowboys — and Nash.
And the Wildcats offered little resistance to him or Marcus Smart, who added 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Outscoring K-State 36-24 in the paint, OSU shot 56.8 percent from the floor, its best outing in conference play.
“They did a good job getting it to (Nash),” said K-State coach Bruce Weber. “We did not do a good job of denying it. Against great players, you can't let them catch the ball. You've got to play defense before they catch it. You can't let them catch it in their comfort zone. They're gonna score baskets.
“We gave them too many easy layups and then he started wheeling and dealing and getting in there and we should have probably helped better, made him kick it, made them shoot some 3s.”
Not these Cowboys.
Not this Nash.
A year ago, maybe even a month ago, maybe. But after having a savior role thrown on him as a true freshman a year ago — which Ford and the player now admit was too much — a blossoming roster around him has relieved pressure from Nash.
And it's released him to be his best.
“When you've got more talented players,” Nash said, “you say ‘Thank you,' to God. When you've got guys like Marcus and Markel, everything's easier.
“It doesn't matter which of us scores. It can be any of us three or none of us. And we can still win. And that's the important thing.”