By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
If Marcus Smart has played his last game at Gallagher-Iba Arena, he went out the way he’s played all year — as a winner.
Behind the play of the freshman point guard and sophomore forward Le’Bryan Nash, No. 13 Oklahoma State bested ninth-ranked Kansas State 76-70 to finish third in the Big 12 Conference.
“This place means a lot to me. The fans have been incredible. They brought me into this OSU family, and it’s been a really good ride. It was really great to end the season with a win at home tonight,” said Smart, who is projected as a top three pick in NBA Draft.
Smart had a typical stat-stuffing performance with 21 points — going 7 for 11 from the field and 6 of 7 at the free-throw line — along with six rebounds and six assists. The OSU faithful understood the significance of Smart’s role on this year’s team, with the student section chanting “One more year!” each time he stepped up to the free-throw line.
“I definitely heard them, but I tried to block it out. It seems like I at least hear it once a game now,” Smart said.
It’s not just the stat sheet that has made the freshman from Flower Mound, Texas, so special for the Pokes.
With the Cowboys (23-7, 13-5 in Big 12) having fought their way back from a sluggish start to the second half, a heady Smart drew a deadball foul of K-State’s Angel Rodriguez with OSU trailing by two with four minutes remaining in the contest. Oklahoma State went on a 12-1 run following the foul and ride away with the upset of a top 10 team.
“It was a big one. They had the ball with the momentum and us down two,” Smart said. “When they called it, their momentum just dropped. The fans erupted. It gave our team the spark that we needed to make a run.”
OSU coach Travis Ford added, “He’s always involved in it. He’s always involved in the play — good or bad. He’s going to be in the middle of the action and more times than not, he’s going to make a positive play. That’s just his game, that’s just his nature.”
Though it was Smart’s smart defensive play that sparked the final surge by the Pokes, it was the aggressive nature of Nash in the second half that helped OSU overcome a 20-5 Wildcat run to open the final 20 minutes.
With K-State a nine-point lead, Nash — who scored a game-high 24 points — scored eight points, all in the paint, as part of an OSU 12-3 run to tie the game midway through the second.
“For me, I just had to get my mindset right. I just kept telling myself to keep attacking the rim,” Nash said. “I told my teammates, too, I told them to keep it going and keep taking it to the hole. That’s what we did. We kept attacking the rim, and it got us back in the game.”
The Cowboys also got 16 points from junior guard Markel Brown, while OSU limited its 3-point shooting — going 3 for 9 from the field, while KSU was 8 for 23 (35 percent) — and focused more on scoring down low with 36 points in the paint.
The victory for Oklahoma State locked them into the No. 3 seed for the Big 12 Conference Championship in Kansas City, Mo. The Cowboys will face No. 6 seed Baylor at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, with the possibility of facing Kansas State — the second seed in the tournament — again in the semifinals.
As for what the future holds past the postseason for OSU’s talented freshman point guard, Ford said he wouldn’t be surprised if Saturday wasn’t the last time to see Smart don an OSU uniform in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“I want what’s best for him,” Ford said. “I’ve read things and everybody says he’s gone for sure, he might. But that’s not been discussed. I wouldn’t be surprised either way. But if I was a fan, I’d want him to come back, definitely.”