But for a program searching to finish games and find an identity for the better part of three years, it was going to take someone willing to shoulder the burden.
Saturday, in OSU's biggest game since James Anderson strapped the school's last NCAA Tournament team on his back, that man was Smart, with plenty of crunchtime help from his old pal.
Smart finished with 25 points, five steals, three assists and nine rebounds — more than the 7-foot Withey — with eight of the boards coming on the offensive end. Two were devastating to the Jayhawks, as Smart knifed inside to not only grab the ball, but produce two follow buckets on back-to-back possessions, extending OSU's lead from 69-68 to 73-68.
“He was terrific down the stretch,” said KU coach Bill Self. “He definitely whipped our guards. I mean, that was a physical beatdown that he put on our guys.
“And also on the free-throw block, you've got a 6-8 (guy) blocking him out, and he just soars right over them.”
Smart's 25 points and five steals matched career highs. Smart also went 9-of-11 at the foul line, with five coming in the final 1:12.
“That was a soft team playing a very aggressive, tough team today,” Self said. “And (Smart) totally wore us out. Give him credit, he was a man playing among boys.”
The Cowboys led by as many as 14 in the first half, before the Jayhawks made their expected run, even pulling into the lead in the second half.
KU led by as much as four on two occasions, including 66-62 nearing the five-minute mark.
But Forte drilled a 3-pointer and Cobbins added a follow slam to put OSU back ahead, 67-66. And after the Jayhawks went back ahead for the last time, 68-67, Nash contributed a big jumper.
Then Smart and Forte did their thing.
It wasn't an easy afternoon for Forte, who started 0-of-8 from the floor and finished 3-of-13, but he finished strong, making four free throws in the final 30 seconds, with the Jayhawks refusing to go away quietly, then producing the final bucket on a game-ending layup.
“There's so much history and tradition here,” Forte said. “To come into a place where they're No. 1 in one poll, No. 2 in another … no one really gave us a chance to win the game.
“To walk out and the place is silent, it's probably one of the best feelings I've ever had playing the game.”