STILLWATER — Phil Forte added a 3 to his jersey, a switch to 13 made necessary when Oklahoma State realized that No. 10 had been retired two years ago.
Then Forte added some much-needed 3s — six to be exact — to the Cowboys' cause Saturday, sparking a rally from a big early deficit to a runaway 80-66 win before an estimated crowd of 7,000 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
OSU trailed 24-11 with 5 1/2 minutes to play in the first half, when Forte sparked a 19-3 run with three of his 3s, sending the Cowboys ahead 30-27 at the break. They never trailed after that, as Forte stayed hot, finishing with a career-high 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting, 6-of-11 from beyond the arc.
“I have the easy part, all I have to do is step in and shoot it,” Forte said. “When you have teammates and coaches that believe in me and want me to shoot the ball as much as possible, that makes it easier to go out there with confidence and shoot the ball. And that's my role on the team.
“They do a great job of trying to find me, put me in positions to be successful.”
Forte's success, combined with Markel Brown's similarly hot shooting, put the Cowboys in position for ultimate success: a win that pushed their record to 13-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big 12. Brown added a season-high 24 points, firing in four 3s and handing out four assists.
It was a major bounce-back for Forte and Brown, who combined to go 3-of-19 from the floor in Monday's loss at Baylor, making none of their 10 3-point tries.
“At Baylor, we were taking good shots, they just weren't falling,” said Forte. “That's how basketball goes sometimes. We know we can make those shots, we just have to keep taking them.
“Tonight they were falling. That was the only difference.”
A big difference.
With road wins proving elusive so far, the Cowboys find themselves pressed to protect their home floor in pursuit of a high league finish and an NCAA Tournament berth. Early on against West Virginia, GIA went nearly silent as OSU struggled to score against Mountaineer pressure, at one point managing points on just two of 16 possessions.
“That was a strange feeling over there, I'm telling you,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “I didn't feel comfortable about anything at that point.”
Ford called several timeouts, imploring them to respond.
“I just challenged our team to fight a little bit more,” he said. “I never was upset. I knew we'd come back here at home and make it a game.”
Forte and Brown on the offensive end, and a mix of pressure and a 2-3 zone on the defensive end swung momentum. The Cowboys also out-rebounded West Virginia 34-28, fueled by Philip Jurick's game-high 12 boards. Marcus Smart gave OSU a third scorer in double figures with 13.
Brown opened the second half with a 3 and the Cowboys went to work building on their lead, pushing it to double-digits at 46-36 at the 12:52 mark. During that stretch, Brown and Forte each nailed a pair of 3s, infuriating West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who chewed his guards for allowing them to work free.
“We helped them by leaving them open to get them started,” Huggins said. “It's a lot easier to make one after you've made a couple. We helped off the wrong people at the wrong times.”
The Cowboys led by as many as 19, with the early anxious mood inside GIA transforming into an all-out celebration.
Forte figures the new jersey will do, too, and happily.
It was pointed out just last week that the No. 10 issued to Forte had actually been retired two years ago, a nod to the 10 members of the basketball team who died in a plane crash in Colorado 12 years ago.
That prompted the change — just in time for this weekend's “Remember The 10” recognitions, with Sunday the anniversary — with everybody on board.
“I can't complain, 13 worked well today,” Forte said. “I'm going to stay with that number. I understand the circumstance … obviously, it's for a good reason.”
As it turns out, 13 will have to do.
“It was the only extra jersey they had,” Forte said. “That's the reason I got 13. They said, ‘This is the number, it'll have to do for now. If you want to change it next year, you can.' As for now, I plan on keeping 13.”