STILLWATER — The advance hype on Marcus Smart always promised special skills, but also special intangibles.
Like an intense will to win.
And an aversion to the alternative.
“To be a great team, you have to hate losing,” Smart said. “You have to hate it as much as you love winning.”
Coming off their first loss this season at Virginia Tech, the No. 23 Cowboys face adversity for the first time heading into a Wednesday-night clash with South Florida (8 p.m., ESPNU).
How will they respond?
Smart, already emerging as the changing face of the team, isn't taking it lightly.
“I know me personally, and this team, we hate losing,” he said. “We lost Saturday at Virginia Tech, it hit us hard. It was quiet the whole way back. We talked about it; we don't want to feel like that no more.
“We're going to do everything in our will to not let that happen.”
Recently, losing has become a bit too common for the Cowboys, punctuated by a 15-18 record a year ago that marked their first losing sub-.500 season since 1987-88. With a roster cleansing behind him and an influx of players with winning pasts, OSU coach Travis Ford is counting on a makeover to take hold.
Smart and Phil Forte, high school teammates at Flower Mound Marcus in Texas, were on teams that went a combined 115-6 and won two state championships in three years. Kamari Murphy, another freshman, played on teams at the IMG Academy in Florida and back home in Brooklyn that were big winners.
Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash came from a culture of winning, too.
“We have some guys on this team who aren't used to losing, so hopefully that will help us,” Ford said.
OSU's 5-1 start and a rise as high as No. 15 in the rankings should help as well. The Cowboys got a taste of winning and relevancy, and enjoyed it. And they want more of both.
Beginning with South Florida, a solid Big East team at 5-2, OSU gets a chance to build momentum into a New Year's Eve showdown with No. 10 Gonzaga, playing its next six games inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
And now the Cowboys have a renewed focus.
“We started off the season on a pretty good note,” Smart said, “then we came in with that loss. It opened a lot of eyes on the team. It's a big reality check for us. We took a lot of things for granted.
“But lesson learned. Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way.”
Looking for a hint on his Cowboys' mood after the loss, Ford called his guys in for an 8 a.m. film session Monday morning. Not normal protocol, Ford did so with a plan.
“I wanted to see how they would come in,” Ford said. “They were attentive. There were some guys who were very disappointed in losing.
“We'll see how we respond. We'll see. You've got to hate losing. We've talked about that. You should feel bad when you lose. It's not fun.”
No. 23 Oklahoma State vs. South Florida
* When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
* Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
* TV: ESPNU (Cox 253)
* Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
* The Bulls earned an NCAA Tournament berth a year ago and are expected to finish in the top half of the Big East.
* South Florida is coming off a 64-53 win over Georgia in the SEC/Big East Challenge.
* OSU's defense is responsible for allowing just 61.7 points and 35.9 percent shooting per game, while producing more than five blocks and nearly seven steals.