KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Marcus Smart’s low point this season came in Lubbock, Texas, where his bubbling frustration boiled over when a Texas Tech fan taunted him, resulting in a retaliatory shove from the Oklahoma State sophomore.
Smart’s turning point likely spun from the same moment.
While the incident is nothing he’ll be proud of, his response from that adversity has redirected his, and the Cowboys’, season.
With a changed Smart leading the way, OSU has altered course, climbing out of a seven-game losing streak to go 4-1 over its last five games entering the Big 12 Tournament, where it faces Texas Tech in a Wednesday opener. Tip time is 6 p.m. in the Sprint Center.
Once again, Smart looks like the Big 12’s most impactful player.
Once again, the Cowboys look formidable, although with this team nothing comes easy.
And Smart now considers that ugly moment in Lubbock, Texas, a blessing.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Smart said. “That’s always how I’ve been raised. God puts situations in your life for a reason. It was a step that I needed to take.
“He put it in front of me and it’s been helping me so far.”
Before that fateful trip to West Texas, the Cowboys had been in a funk, dropping three straight. Losing that night at Tech made it four consecutive losses, a slide that then continued on through the three games he sat out while under suspension from the Big 12.
Smart’s own funk had become a storyline, too. Noticeably agitated and angry at times on the floor, he made news for the wrong reasons, whether frequently complaining about calls or flopping or kicking chairs on the bench or even briefly stomping away from the court late in one game, a moment that later spurred an apology to his teammates via Twitter. Smart’s game deteriorated as well. He fired up too many wild perimeter shots, seemingly trying to play hero, rather than the versatile facilitator role that marked his standout play a year ago.
Then came the shove. And the suspension.
And some pause and reflection.
“I definitely think it helped him,” said teammate and longtime friend Phil Forte. “He was able to step back and refresh his mind. And I think it humbled him. He got his fire back to just go out there and play and have fun again.
“That was the one thing I think he was missing before that before the suspension, he just wasn’t having the fun he’d had before.”
Back from his unscheduled break, Smart was immediately better.
In his first game post-suspension, ironically against Texas Tech, Smart went retro, scoring 16 points, yet more tellingly handing out a season-high 10 assists, to go with six steals, three rebounds and two blocked shots.
Immediately, he confirmed that his joy for the game had been missing, but was returned.
And it was apparent as he smiled and celebrated. And breathed.
During this five-game span, a stretch that has featured wins over Kansas and Kansas State, Smart’s play has been consistently selfless.
And he and the Cowboys are better for it, seemingly positioning themselves for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, where they could do some damage with sustained all-for-one play.
“I have (changed),” Smart said. “My teammates have also. But as for myself, I have played differently. I’ve played more under control, trying to get my teammates a little more involved than I was earlier in the season.
“We’re just playing good ball together.”
Together, yet dictated by Smart.
This remains his team. And it will proceed forward, however far, upon his direction.
So in hindsight, maybe Smart is better for what happened in Lubbock.
Had Tech fan Jeffrey Orr not nudged him over the edge, Smart might have continued on his path of frustration and flawed play through the end of the season. And it would have ended badly for him and his team.
Maybe he needed a time out, even if forced.
“He got to sit back and watch the team play. He got to work on his own game,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “We got him a ton of individual workouts, and he did a lot of things on his own. And I’m sure it was a great time to reflect. ‘OK, what makes me the best player? What do I need to do?’
“From that aspect, I don’t think it hurt. As competitive as he is, I think he would have gotten back it anyway. But, yeah, I think it gave him a great time to reflect.”