STILLWATER — The Gonzaga game delivered for Oklahoma State in many ways.
Returned the rowdy. Revealed reason to believe Marcus Smart is not only the Big 12's best freshman, but perhaps the Big 12's best player, as one prominent league coach has suggested to confidantes.
Revealed, too, more individual reasons for optimism, with Markel Brown, Philip Jurick and Phil Forte all playing big in an early season clash that offered a postseason feel.
Only one thing, albeit a big thing, was missing: a victory.
The No. 10-ranked Bulldogs prevailed, 69-68, with the clutch production late that they've shown repeatedly in a 13-1 start that features five wins over Big 12 squads.
“You saw a Gonzaga team that's a veteran team,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “They've been in this position before. They made veteran plays. We made some youthful plays at times.”
For OSU, all eyes now shift to the bounce-back.
Gonzaga always offered a special nonconference appeal as a premium home date and a chance at seizing major momentum, but came with the potential consequence of a disappointment, too, which the Cowboys now face entering Big 12 play, which opens with a difficult road game Saturday at Kansas State.
“This Gonzaga team, this was a big test for us going into the Big 12,” Brown said. “We're going to use this game and the next couple days to prepare for teams like Kansas State, who's in the Top 25. It's going to be another tough matchup on the road. We've just to go out there and fight and get the win.”
The Cowboys led 63-60 inside the 2 1/2-minute mark, before a costly turnover and two missed free throws weighed heavily into Gonzaga's rally.
Still, Smart gave a starring performance, scoring a career-high 23 points and adding six assists and four rebounds. Brown added 16 points, three blocked shots and two assists. Forte fired in five 3-pointers, most at critical junctures. And Jurick grabbed seven rebounds and provided tough defense inside.
“We did a lot of good things,” Ford said. “We made some good defensive plays. Some things we worked on over the break, some pressing, some trapping things paid off for us a little bit. We did everything well but rebound.”
With the nonconference schedule complete and the Cowboys at 10-2, Ford assessed his team's overall early play.
“It went well,” Ford said. “We won some good games. We lost a couple games. We haven't hurt ourselves. The real season starts now.
“We need to bounce back. But if you would have told me we'd be 10-2 through nonconference play at the start of the year, I'd have taken it.”
FORD STRESSES ‘PHYSICALITY'