STILLWATER — “One more year! One more year!” the OSU crowd chanted every time Marcus Smart stepped to the foul line.
Travis Ford didn't appear to join the chorus, though you couldn't blame the Cowboy coach if he turned ventriloquist to increase the volume.
But why set limits? If you're going to dream big, dream impossibly big. Ask for two more years.
Ask the freshman phenom to keep the magic going as long as possible.
Smart has brought back the rowdy to Gallagher-Iba Arena and brought back the winning to Cowboy basketball.
OSU beat ninth-ranked Kansas State 76-70 Saturday to cap a renaissance regular season and send the 23-7 Cowboys into the post-season with well-placed optimism.
“If we play like we did tonight, we can win some games,” said State coach Travis Ford.
And if this was Smart's final OSU home game, it was a swell sayonara. Smart had 21 points, six rebounds, six assists and only four missed shots.
Players this good — NBA draft lottery level — almost always turn pro. Here's hoping that Smart stays, because college basketball in this state is much more fun with him in the game, and Ford says he won't be surprised either way.
Smart says he heard the chants and tried to block them out but he appreciates the sentiments.
“It means a lot,” Smart said. “When I first got here, the fans accepted me with opening arms. This has been a great ride. That was a great win.”
Smart's sidekicks were good, too. Le'Bryan Nash had 24 points and missed only two shots. Markel Brown had 16 points. And OSU's defense was mostly excellent. KSU scored 20 points on its first 11 second-half possessions, but otherwise, the Cowboys clamped down. For the game, KSU shot below 40 percent from the field.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said the Wildcats handled Smart better on Jan. 5 in Manhattan. Of course, OSU is not the same team it was two months ago. These Cowboys are much better.
“You know, he's good,” Weber said of Smart. “The key is when other guys play well, that allows him to roam more. Now you're worried about Nash, you're worried about Brown, and then he kinda roamed. We have to do a better job of protecting, because if you play those guys one-on-one, they're just too good. They're very, very talented."
But Smart is the catalyst. And a classic Smart stretch turned this game late.
The Cowboys trailed 61-57 with 41/2 minutes remaining, but Smart nailed a shot that was ruled a 3-pointer, and as KSU brought the ball upcourt, officials stopped play to check the monitor. Sure enough, Smart's foot was on the line, and his basket was worth just two points.
But then Smart drew a push-off foul from KSU's Angel Rodriguez on the inbounds pass.
Smart then was fouled on a 3-point shot, hit two of the foul shots to tie and OSU never trailed again.
“Sometimes that's gone the other way,” Ford said of Rodriguez's offensive foul. “Teams have started really being physical with him, and he puts up with it, and puts up with it. Pretty smart player. At some point, he's gotta be rewarded.”
This was a pristine performance by Smart against a rugged team. KSU is not flashy but is all kinds of tough and experienced. Weber is an excellent coach. The Wildcats, even with the loss, tied Kansas for the Big 12 title.
“One of Marcus' best games in awhile,” Ford said. “He really ran our team like a great point guard. Had that stat line again we've been looking for.
“He's always involved in a play, good or bad. He's going to be in the middle of the action, and more times than not, he's going to make a positive play.”
Moments after the victory, Smart was with the crowd that earlier had been serenading him. He stood with OSU students singing the alma mater, and for a moment, you let your imagination loose, thinking he just might stay.
And even if Smart does leave, he hasn't left yet. This great ride continues.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.