STILLWATER — Le'Bryan Nash turned aggressor Monday night, taking the ball to the Baylor Bears, even taking it to their daunting big men.
And while the Cowboys lost, Nash provided a promising performance with a season-high 24 points and a searched-for passion and energy that isn't always detectable with the enigmatic sophomore.
Now, can he repeat the effort, if not necessarily all those points? And keep repeating it regularly, bolstering Oklahoma State's hopes for a high finish in the Big 12?
The answer is something his critics, his coaches and even Nash himself are eager to discover.
“It's just confidence with me,” Nash said. “If I miss a shot, don't get down on myself. That's the main thing about me, just playing hard.”
That seemingly simple concept — playing hard — has been the source of much angst since the former McDonald's All-American first started revealing an up-and-down pattern of play a year ago as a freshman.
Excitement and anticipation accompanied a player who won dunk championships and ranked as one the nation's elite prospects, recruited by the likes of Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, Texas and others. The half-brother of former Cowboy Byron Eaton chose OSU, stoking hopes of a rebirth for the program.
And Nash has had his moments, like a 27-point barrage in an upset of then-No. 2 Missouri last year, a 23-point effort in OSU's signature win of this season against North Carolina State.
And let's not forget, Nash was good enough overall to earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors for 2011-12.
Yet, there's also something missing in Nash's game at times.
He knows it. His coaches now it. And Cowboys fans surely know it, evident as many engaged in a Twitter attack on Nash following a close loss at Kansas State, when he contributed just six points and three rebounds while generally seeming disengaged.
Cowboys coach has long professed that Nash is misunderstood, that his body language betrays a likable young man who is still laboring to ditch 15 years of bad habits.
“I've watched him since high school,” said former college coach and current ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla. “I saw this coming.
“I knew he was going to be inconsistent early on, because we all agree that Le'Bryan in high school played as hard as he needed to. I don't think anyone would dispute that.”
Nash's “motor” has been at issue since he was being recruited out of Lincoln High School in Dallas. Back then, he was so superior to the competition, things came easy; too easy it seems.
Still, he was a coveted prospect. The skills were obvious, as they've been on those occasions when Nash is in the flow and going hard and producing, like he was at Baylor.
Ford doesn't want to go there, not yet.
“I think he had success on the offensive end,” Ford said. “He did some good things defensively. He ran the court. He was locked in mentally, the way we want him. Hopefully he continues that.
“Is it a breakout? I've seen him score 24 before.”
But it wasn't just the scoring, Nash clearly ramped up his effort, taking on Baylor's bigger post men, scoring over them and around them with the rest of the Cowboys struggling.
“When he does that, he's going to score more, because he's talented,” Ford said. “When you play hard, usually good things are going to happen for you.”
For all the peaks and valleys in Nash's performances, Fraschilla said he sees improved energy in this second season.
Fraschilla said there's more left to see, too.
“Now he's at a stage where he can be the best player on the floor, almost every night, if he puts his mind to it,” Fraschilla said. “I think there's a maturity process that's under way. I've seen Le'Bryan play harder this year than he did last year.
“Would I be frustrated with him as a coach at times? Sure, because you see so much potential with him. I think he's at his best when he plays the game inside-out. He certainly has the skills to play some on the perimeter, but I don't think he realizes how dominant he could be inside.”
The Baylor game gave a glimpse.
Now, can he repeat the effort?