Stillwater News Press

November 2, 2012

Oklahoma State overwhelms Ottawa in opener

By Jason Elmquist

STILLWATER, Okla. — The Oklahoma State University men’s basketball team lost the best 3-point shooter in program history with the graduation of Keiton Page, but if Thursday’s exhibition contest against Ottawa (Kan.) University is any sign, the Cowboys may have actually gotten better from long range.

Last season OSU shot just 33 percent from beyond the arc — finishing near the bottom of the Big 12 — with Page responsible for half of the made 3-pointers. On Thursday night, OSU knocked down 15 of 31 from long range (48.4 percent) in a 109-56 rout of the Braves.

“I thought this was a team that would shoot a lot of threes and I think we will,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “... I said it even before we went to Spain, even though we’re losing Keiton, I think we’re going to shoot more threes and maybe make more. It’s going to be spread out a little bit more.

“Tonight was a good night, we just can’t live and die with it. But it is going to be a part of what we do, it seems like.”

Phil Forte — the freshman guard from Flower Mound, Texas, who has received plenty of comparisons to Page — went off in his first collegiate game. Forte hit 5 for 10 from long range — making 4 of 5 in the first half — to finish with 19 points in 28 minutes of action off the bench.

“They tell me to shoot it when I’m open, so all I have to do is knock it down,” Forte said. “... This was crazy. This was my first college basketball game, something you dream about as a kid. It was fun to get out there and I can’t wait for that whole arena to be packed eventually.”

Junior college transfer Kirby Gardner also had a hot hand from 3-point range, going 4 for 6 to tie Forte with a game-high 19 points.

Forte’s fellow high school teammate Marcus Smart, a highly recruited forward/guard combo, also had a big first night for the Cowboys. Playing predominantly out of the point guard position, Smart had 13 points and a team-high six assists, while finishing with no turnovers and coming away with six steals.

“It was good. He’s a physical point guard and he makes things happen out there,” Ford said. “He just makes things happen around him and he’s in all the plays — if there’s a loose ball, he’s around; if there’s a round, he’s usually around it. Him and Markel (Brown) played 15 minutes a piece and they both had some pretty good stats for 15 minutes.”

The Pokes got a big boost from another freshman, forward Kamari Murphy, who had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

“In practice, coach has been (stressing) rebounding. In Spain, I led the team in rebounding and throughout meetings he’s been telling me that’s my job,” Murphy said. “I don’t worry about scoring like that; I score when I can. But my job is rebounding.”

On a night more for getting the freshmen some experience, the returning veterans showed they were able to gel with the newcomers.

Junior Markel Brown had 17 points, including some of his patented dunks — one in which he drove the baseline and dunked over an Ottawa defender, and another in which he performed a 360-degree spin in the air on a breakaway dunk. Brown also joined in on the shooting from outside, making 3 of 4 attempts from downtown.

Sophomore Le’Bryan Nash, a unanimous All-Big 12 Conference first team member, had some struggles adjusting to the four position — which he wasn’t expected to play much of this season until Brian Williams went down with a season-ending injury. Nash went 3 for 8 from the field to end with just 11 points.

“I thought LB did a great job of play-making,” Ford said. “And that’s what we’ve been working on. I am as pleased that he’s been listening and doing what we’ve asked. ... He played with some physicality, which I liked.”

Oklahoma State may have suffered a big blow, however. The already injury-riddled Cowboys saw sophomore forward Michael Cobbins go down with a foot injury early in the contest. He didn’t return to the game and Ford said he was uncertain of how severe the injury is.

“We’ll see,” Ford said. “It’s his toe.”

The Cowboys will open the regular season Nov. 9 with a home game against UC-Davis in Gallagher-Iba Arena at 8 p.m.