Le'Bryan Nash collected the All-College Classic Most Valuable Player trophy — fittingly the Henry P. Iba MVP trophy — and promptly handed it over to his mom Saturday.
“She demanded it,” Nash said.
Nash commanded the ball. Mom demanded the hardware.
“That's a good day,” Nash said.
On an afternoon when No. 7-ranked Oklahoma State's more prominent options weren't scoring, Nash filled the void, striking for a season-high 22 points in a 70-55 win over Louisiana Tech.
Before a crowd of 7,047 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Cowboys were dominant defensively, holding the Bulldogs to 32.8 percent shooting, forcing 16 turnovers and blocking eight shots. But with little rhythm or flow on the offensive end, and Marcus Smart and Markel Brown slow to get going, OSU eventually turned to Nash, who scored 15 in the first half.
“He gave us scoring when we needed it,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “He's kind of a guy, when you're not making shots — and we've got other guys who like to shoot it, and all of a sudden they don't go in — everybody starts looking for LB.
“Everybody says, ‘Alright, let's throw it to him.' It always happens, because he usually gets the high-percentage shots. He's a good go-to guy when you need points.”
Saturday, Nash got rebounds, too, grabbing a team-high 10 for his second career double-double, both coming this season.
The Cowboys improved to 9-1. The Bulldogs fell to 8-3.
Tech coach Michael White suggested that OSU is a “legitimate Final Four contender.” And the presence of Nash as a third, or even fourth scoring option some games played to his point.
“It's tricky,” White said. “You hope Nash doesn't go off on you, while you spend a lot of other time concentrating on their other pros — on Smart and on Markel Brown, who's terrific as well. And Nash took advantage.
“The three or four times we were helping off him, he made us pay. He had five offensive rebounds. He's a long, athletic, talented guy who could be the best player on certain teams. That's another thing that makes them so good, their depth and overall talent level.”
Smart focused on defending and facilitating against the Bulldogs, attempting just eight shots. He eventually finished with 13 points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots. Brown heated up after a 1-for-7 shooting performance in the first half, adding 13 points. Kamari Murphy scored 10 off the bench and Brian Williams added an efficient nine points.
Nash was the constant.
“We have a great group of guys that are very talented, so on any given night you never know,” Smart said. “All of us might be on, you might have two, you might have one. That's the thing about this team. You never know who's going to be on. You have to account for all of us.
“And it's not just dependent on one guy. That's what we have with this team.”
Brown and Smart combined to make just 2 of 11 shots in the first half, with Brown missing six, although he may have been more preoccupied clamping down on Bulldogs leading scorer Raheem Appleby.
The Tech guard entered averaging 16.8 points a game for a team that was scoring at an 86.2 clip. But Appleby finished with just nine, going 4 of 15 from the floor, with five turnovers.
“I thought we'd be more competitive, to be honest,” White said. “But we struggled so much from an offensive standpoint. Missed the few open looks that we had. Just couldn't get it going offensively against a terrific defensive team.”
OSU used a late first-half surge to lead 31-18 at intermission. Still, the Cowboys were sluggish offensively throughout, and led just 49-42 at the 8:44 mark, before closing it out.
With little drama about the MVP, Nash pulled his teammates in close to share in the moment.
“I think it's a team thing,” Nash said. “I don't really get caught up in the single awards. I think it's a team award. I asked my teammates to take the picture with me. I think it's a team game and when you win an MVP, your team wins the MVP.
“I'm happy for myself, but it's a team (award) to me.”