STILLWATER — Moments after the opening tip Tuesday night, Memphis defensive whiz Geron Johnson uttered a few choice words to Marcus Smart.
The Tiger tugged on a tiger's tail.
“The first play, when we got the tip, Geron Johnson bowed me up and he denied me the ball,” Smart said. “I was a little surprised by it. And he said a little something, jawing off to me.
“That always motivates me. And that motivated me to be more aggressive.”
Of course, Smart proceeded to take it to Johnson and No. 11-ranked Memphis in a show of force, stealing the spotlight on a big night of hoops nationally with a performance that continues to resonate in the wake of a 101-80 win.
Yet it wasn't just Smart who impressed.
The rest of the Cowboys put themselves on display — and put the nation on alert — with an overwhelming of Memphis that featured defense and athleticism and depth, all hinting at a team built for a big season.
“We had so many great performances,” said OSU coach Travis Ford. “Brian Williams had 15 points and eight rebounds. He played to his strengths and stuck to his role. Markel (Brown) got hot late. Le'Bryan Nash had 10 rebounds. I thought Kamari Murphy and Michael Cobbins really battled inside.
“I thought that we went out there very businesslike, had some goals we wanted to accomplish from the beginning and got after it. I thought the effort was at a very high level.”
Smart led the assault, scoring 10 of his team's first 12 points and 26 overall … in the first half.
During a timeout, ESPN's television broadcast caught Tigers coach Josh Pastner telling his players they looked shell-shocked.
“Marcus came out on fire,” said Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin. “I saw a lot of heads drop, and everybody lost their ego that we had before the game.”
Eventually, Smart blew past his previous scoring high of 28 points, finishing with a sophomore school-record 39, to go with a familiar stat-stuffing line that included four boards, four assists, five steals and two blocked shots.
It was a statement game on a major stage for Smart, sending a message that all those freshmen drawing so much preseason hype that they aren't alone in the national player of the year hunt.
And it was a statement game for the Cowboys as a team, too.
“There's a lot of talent, athleticism on that Oklahoma State team — whew,” Dan Patrick said on his morning NBCSports show. “It seemed like the court was smaller than other courts. It's because they were all over the floor.”
Against a Memphis squad lauded for its defense, the Cowboys imposed their will, building as much as a 34-point lead and finishing with 101 points. And it was OSU's defense that shined, frustrating the Tigers' four senior guards into a combined 8-for-34 shooting performance.
Williams and Brown and reserve guard Stevie Clark are quick and fast and always looking to attack on both ends of the floor. Cobbins and Murphy use their athleticism to impact the paint, despite a lack of prototypical big-man size. Nash has grown comfortable in his role and can score and rebound.
All that was on display Tuesday night, when OSU played without Phil Forte, who entered as the team's leading scorer and prime perimeter threat yet barely played due to a stomach virus.
“Oklahoma State, they kicked our butt. Bottom line,” Pastner said. “No other way to look at it.”