STILLWATER — To understand why Marcus Smart is the best player in the Big 12, you need only to rewind to the biggest of the big plays in Bedlam.
It was the jump ball that he forced.
We're not talking about that jump ball. We're not referring to the improbable block of Steven Pledger's 3-pointer that resulted in a tie-up, an Oklahoma State possession and an end to the Oklahoma's upset hopes on Saturday.
No, when Cowboy coach Travis Ford broke down the game, there was another jump ball that Smart forced that stood out even more. It's a play that illustrates the impact that the Cowboy point guard has throughout every game and explains why he goes into Wednesday night's game against Kansas with a chance to all but wrap up Big 12 Player of the Year honors.
With less than a minute left in overtime Saturday, Le'Bryan Nash missed a free throw that eventually caromed beyond the 3-point line. Romero Osby dove on the floor and snagged the ball, but Smart decided to dive on the floor, too, and forced a jump ball.
Possession stayed with Oklahoma.
“Ten out of 10 people probably would've just let OU have it — because they had it — and just run back to the other end,” Ford said. “But he decides he's going to dive on the floor and tie it up.”
Moments later, Smart forced another jump ball with the block of Pledger, but because of the play he made forcing the jump ball on Osby, possession went to OSU.
The Sooners had to foul, and the Cowboys iced the game.
Without that dive-on-the-floor jump ball, the outcome of that 3-pointer-block jump ball would've been entirely different.
“That's a huge play,” Ford said of the first tie up.
Count it as another in the litany of big-time plays by a big-time player.
And really, if Smart wins Big 12 Player of the Year — as he should if the vote were taken today — it's going to be because of his propensity for big-time plays. He doesn't wow you with gaudy stats. He doesn't amaze you with his scoring average. He doesn't astonish you with his shooting percentage.
Not that any of those are terrible.
Smart is averaging 15.0 points, 4.5 assists. 2.9 steals and 0.8 blocks a game. Among Big 12 players, he ranks first in only one of those categories, steals. But among that same group of players, he ranks in the top 15 in each of those categories.
No other player in the league can say that.
“Huge impact on the game in every way,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said of Smart.