STILLWATER – Marcus Smart rose up to fire a 3-pointer late Saturday night, and many in jam-packed Gallagher-Iba Arena gasped, some even shouted “No! No!”
Smart had already missed 6 of 7 tries from the arc, and with the Cowboys clawing back to within one, trying another hardly seemed wise.
Then Smart’s shot turned true, just like his game in the second half, spurring Oklahoma State’s rallying 72-65 win over No. 5 Kansas.
The Cowboys needed a statement game.
So did Smart.
Needed and delivered, on both counts.
Smart shook off a shaky first half, scoring 20 of his 21 points after intermission, including 12 in the final 7:16, when OSU was finishing off a comeback from 10 points down at the 10:51 mark. The Cowboys star sophomore, who missed three games while suspended during the losing streak, missed all seven of his shots from the floor in the first half. But he rallied strong, slashing and scoring and defending when the Cowboys needed him most.
“My teammates, they stayed in my ear,” Smart said. “‘Keep shooting. Keep driving. Do what you do. Let your defense create your offense.’ And that’s kind of what I did. I had four steals, so I was active off the ball and on the ball.
“I just kind of let my game come to me in the second half.”
And yet, Smart took it to the Jayhawks.
In the end, his stat line was superb: 21 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and a blocked shot.
Along with that, he dictated play, driving and dishing and drawing fouls, making 9 of 14 shots from the line after the Jayhawks found themselves in foul trouble in the second half. The Cowboys were in the bonus at the 11:53 mark.
“I don’t think you’re going to shut him out,” said KU coach Bill Self. “The ball’s in his hand so much and he’s so good at driving. And his teammates helped him, because his teammates helped him get in the bonus.
“It would be like any guy that’s thirsty, or hungry, if the other team’s in the bonus with 13 left, if you’re the best guy in America at drawing fouls, you’re going to drive it every time. That was a big difference, we couldn’t keep him off the free throw line.”
After losing seven straight games to drift among the NCAA Tournament end Jayhawks, already guaranteed a 10th straight Big 12 championship and owning the No. 1 RPI before Saturday,
Markel Brown also scored 21 points and Le’Bryan Nash had 16.
Andrew Wiggins led Kansas with 15 points.
The Jayhawks seemed to have the Cowboys just where they wanted them, leading 52-42 nearing the 10-minute mark. But Nash scored and was fouled, completing the three-point play to cut the lead to 52-45. Then Brown took an alley-oop pass from Smart for a dunk, followed by a Nash dunk, and the lead was trimmed further, to 52-49.
And suddenly, the old building was rocking like old times, and the Cowboys found momentum.
“This is a team that never gives up,” Brown said. “Even if we’re down 20, we’re going to always fight and always have each other’s back. We’re going to always go out there and give it our all.”
Still, KU still led 61-60 when Smart fired in his final 3 – he went 2 of 7 from long distance – and OSU never trailed again.
For a team that had struggled to finish games during their seven-game losing streak, the Cowboys not only closed, they closed with a statement.
“Losing those seven games straight, it opened our eyes to a whole lot of things,” Smart said. “And a lot of it was not closing out a lot of those games. We were extra focused tonight. And we knew if it came down to it, we were going to have to pull out this game.”