SAN JOSE, Calif. – Marcus Smart's hand hurt. So did his pride.
Smart sported an icepack atop his injured wrist and the burden of responsibility atop his wide shoulders. His Cowboys had just lost 68-55 to Oregon in an NCAA Tournament game Thursday that in all likelihood was his OSU adieu.
And Smart, who played bold, if not well, blamed himself.
“I definitely wish I could have done more for my team,” Smart said. “I feel like I let my team down. I didn't contribute to my team the way that I usually do.”
It's mostly rubbish, of course. Smart led the Cowboys to San Jose and he left nothing on the California hardwood. Didn't shoot well (five of 13), but marksmanship never has been the focus of his game.
Smart still had 14 points, four assists, five steals and a team-high nine rebounds, seven of them defensive, on a day when a defensive rebound was more precious than gold for the Cowboys.
Standard stat line for the teen-ager who lifted OSU basketball from doldrums.
The Cowboy point guard surely is headed for the NBA. I hope he stays, because OSU hoops is a lot more fun with players like him. But all great players these days go pro at first chance.
Which would mean the Smart Era era ended just like it came.
Quickly. Sudden. No doubt about it.
Just as Smart came to Stillwater and transformed OSU basketball almost immediately, the Ducks walked into HP Pavilion and claimed this game early.
Cowboy coach Travis Ford sensed early his team was in trouble.
“I didn't like how we started,” Ford said. “I didn't like how they beat us to loose balls and how they were outrebounding us.”
Oregon set the tone early; good shots and rebounds would not come easily to the Cowboys. OSU committed turnovers on its first three possessions, the Ducks soon started playing volleyball with their own missed their shots and the Cowboys never even got within single digits in the second half.
“Give Oregon credit; they played to their strengths,” Ford said. “Guys were a little bit out of their comfort zone at the beginning. I don't know if it was nervousness, a little jittery, and the first half really set the tone.”
The Ducks never let Smart — or any other Cowboy — get in an offensive rhythm. Some Ducks are big, and others are quick. They were able to do what every team the last three months has tried to do. Knock Smart off his game.
“They picked him up,” Ford said. “They wanted to deny him the ball. We knew they were going to do that. We figured they were going to try to wear him down as much as possible.”
Some believe Smart is worn down from round-the-calendar basketball, including the U.S. under-18 national team last summer. But I don't know. Even in the waning, meaningless minutes Thursday, Smart looked like the strongest horse in the race.
But on this day, and maybe most days, the Ducks had more good players than did the Cowboys, be it lightning-bug guards Dominic Artis and Johnathan Loyd, shooters E.J. Singler and Damyean Dotson, or rugged rebounders Carlos Emory and Arsalan Kazemi.
The underseeded Ducks were far better than a No. 12 seed. All the flack the NCAA basketball committee took was justified. The committee has been sufficiently shamed.
And so out went the Cowboys from their first NCAA Tournament in three years. If Smart goes pro, will the Cowboys be back dancing next season, especially if Markel Brown or Le'Bryan Nash join him?
Ford has recruited some talent, but is Smart's vaunted presence so great that it can feed the Cowboys even when he's gone?
“His intent on winning is the best I've ever seen,” Ford said.
“This season he's had a great impact. We had a total team effort, but no question, we had the best freshman in America on our team. The force he played with. He brings it every day in practice.”
Smart brought it Thursday. But it wasn't enough against Oregon, which quickly ended OSU's season, and in all likelihood an era.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.