STILLWATER — Marcus Smart arrived in Stillwater with much acclaim, backed up by so many coaches and analysts touting his skills and his intangibles as a game-changer.
All of it was on full display Wednesday night, when Smart flipped a tight, important game against Iowa State, capped by his decisive basket with 3.1 seconds left, lifting Oklahoma State to a 78-76 win before an estimated 6,500 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Smart's final numbers: a game-high 21 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals.
And two big shots — a banked-in, 55-foot buzzer beater to end the first half, then a driving power play in the closing seconds to break a 76-76 tie.
“Most of the time, shots like that, I don't think it's going in,” Smart said of his final basket. “At that time and moment, I had a feeling like I couldn't miss when I was going to the basket, like whatever I threw up was going in.”
The final shot was originally designed to go to Markel Brown, but once Smart took the inbounds pass with 24.6 seconds remaining, the ball never left his hands.
After dribbling out front, Smart went to work with seven seconds left, beating Iowa State defender Will Clyburn and powering past late help from Cyclones forward Georges Niang, tossing up the game-winner.
“The play was designed for Markel to go back door, because we knew they were going to be overplaying,” Smart said. “He came off two double-screens. Coach (Travis) Ford said get to the basket if it's there. That's kind of what happened. My defender let up on me and I just took him.
“I made a tough shot, but it was a big shot for my team.”
And while there was drama to play out over those final three-plus seconds, Smart provided the big shot in a big win for the Cowboys, who overcame a perimeter-shooting barrage by the Cyclones on a night when it seemed like they trailed much of the way, despite 15 lead changes and nine ties.
“I think he's one of the best players in the country,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. “He's a winner.
“Made plays when it mattered most. He does everything for them.”
The Cowboys improved to 14-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big 12, scoring a notch against one of the other teams jockeying for the Big 12's eventual allotment of NCAA Tournament berths. Iowa State fell to 14-6 and 4-3, but not before putting a scare into the Cowboys and their crowd.
The Cyclones shot 53.8 percent from the floor and 54.2 percent from the arc, making 13 3-pointers on 24 attempts. They led by as many as eight in the first half and 11 after intermission. And every time OSU made a run, Iowa State seemed to have an answer from long range.
The Cowboys countered with Smart, and balanced scoring, with Le'Bryan Nash adding 18 points, while Phil Forte had 17, Markel Brown 12 and Michael Cobbins 10.
“I didn't think we played great defense, but we took a great shot from the other team, too,” Ford said. “I know we left them open sometimes, but all I see right now is 3s going in. I don't remember them missing a shot.
“When they're shooting like that, they're tough to beat.”
And the Cyclones were tough to beat, even after Smart's final bucket.
The final :03.1 took five minutes to play, with the Cowboys forcing a turnover, only to get called for a foul on their own inbounds pass with :00.8 showing. Initially, it looked like a costly foul, with Nash called for pushing Iowa State's Chris Babb on a long heave designed to run out the clock — sending Babb to the line for a 1-and-1 try.
But officials conferred, and changed the call to a player-control foul, with the Cyclones not in possession of the ball, thus not getting free throws. Finally, on their final inbound play, Tyus McGee fired wildly as the clock expired.