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.”