STILLWATER — The youngest of four brothers, Marcus Smart learned early that he had to elevate his game against the big boys.
“You've got to bring a little something special,” Smart said.
Nothing's changed for the Oklahoma State freshman, who so far has broken out his basketball best in the biggest games.
Against the Cowboys' five major foes — Tennessee, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Gonzaga and Kansas State — Smart has averaged 20.6 points, all while giving OSU all it envisioned at the point guard position: assists, steals, leadership, even rebounds, an average of 6.2 in those games.
“A lot of people say I play better in big games,” Smart said. “To an extent, I'd like to think that's the case. It's just something about having a big crowd there, that feeling of the atmosphere going and how big of a game it is, just gets me prepared and going.”
Smart's play, coupled with an influence that has already transformed the attitude of his team, remains a major reason the Cowboys are expected to contend in the Big 12.
“I've seen enough. You can watch him on tape once,” said TCU coach Trent Johnson, who gets an up-close look at Smart and the Cowboys Wednesday night at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“I think he's really special. I think he's what's great for basketball. I mean, he wins. He does all the little things. He's coachable.”
As Johnson rolls through his take on a changed Cowboys' persona, it's an indirect nod to Smart, who has had the greatest influence on the team's newfound toughness.
“When you start looking at their whole team, with how hard they play and how nasty they are — and I say nasty in a positive way,” Johnson said. “When you see the improvement of Markel Brown, how his skill level has improved and how relentless he is. They've got a real tough team and a real competitive team.
“And they've got a great player.”
Smart's total impact is wide-ranging. He's averaging 14.3 points and leads the team with 64 assists and a Big 12-best 34 steals in 13 games. The 6-foot-4 guard is second on the team in rebounding, averaging 6.1 per game, trailing only center Philip Jurick. He's the only player in the Big 12 who ranks in the top 15 of all five major categories: scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots.
The praise for Smart has been widespread, ranging from ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla a year ago, to Florida's Billy Donovan and Gonzaga's Mark Few — two coaches who worked with Smart on the U.S. U18 team last summer — to Kansas coach Bill Self most recently.
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Oklahoma State vs. TCU
* When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
* Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
* Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
* TV: KOCB-34 (Cox 11/HD 711; Dish 34; DirecTV 34; U-Verse 34, HD 1034)
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
* The Horned Frogs have been decimated by injuries. Leading scorer Amric Fields (knee) is out for the season and starting forward Jarvis Ray (foot) is out until mid-February. Freshman center Aaron Durley (knee) was lost before the season began.
* TCU lost at home to Texas Tech on Saturday, missing on what appeared to be its best shot at a Big 12 win.
* The Cowboys have won 10 straight conference home openers.