By Jason Elmquist
Stillwater News Press
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Phil Forte stands 5-foot-11, according to information provided by Oklahoma State, making him the smallest member of the Pokes' roster — and among the shortest in Big 12 Conference.
But in order for Oklahoma State to make a run in the conference tournament or the NCAA Tournament, which now appears to be a lock for the Cowboys, Forte is going to have to be OSU's biggest player.
With things bogged down on offense Monday night against Kansas State, which has the second-best scoring defense and the best 3-point field goal percentage defense in the league, Forte broke things wide open — and in turn giving Oklahoma State another marquee win to lock up a spot in the postseason tournament.
The sophomore sharp-shooter knocked down 6 of 11 shots from the perimeter — finishing one short of tying his career mark for 3-pointers made — he led all scorers with 23 points.
But it's not just him making those shots that benefits Oklahoma State. Forte simply being on the court effects the game on offense for Oklahoma State.
Though Forte scored just two points against Kansas Saturday — the first time he failed to score double digits since scoring eight against Texas, nearly a month ago, in his first start at Oklahoma State — the Jayhawks never let him free, constantly with an eye on him. And in turn, Markel Brown and Marcus Smart made a couple big 3-pointers late and finished with 21 points each.
“We were talking about it as a coaching staff (Sunday) how him being on the floor creates for other people,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “Like a game against Kansas, where they never left him — they weren’t leaving him no matter where he was. It showed in his shot attempts and percentage, but it opened up so many other things for other people.”
The trio of Brown, Smart and Le'Bryan Nash already cause enough fits for opposing defenses, but if Forte can continue to knock down shots from outside, not only will it give OSU a boost on the scoreboard three points at a time, but will also open things up for the formidable trio.
With Forte finding his stroke from the perimeter Monday, like clockwork, the lanes to the paint began to widen — which allowed Brown and Smart to penetrate and go to the free throw line a combined 22 times, where Brown got 11 of his 15 points.
“Once Phil starts knocking down shots, when he sets a screen on our man they have to help and it can leave us open,” Brown said. “It’s big time with Phil out there making shots, it takes a lot of pressure off me, Marcus, Le’Bryan, Kamari (Murphy). Once he gets going, it’s hard to stop him. He just really relieves a lot of pressure off this team by making those.”
Since joining the starting lineup, Forte has shot 41.4 percent from the perimeter, which has dropped his 3-point field goal percentage to 45.4 percent — though it still puts him as the seventh-best in the country by percentage.
It’s that threat on the perimeter that will force defenses to focus on him come tournament time. And if he continues to knock them down with regularity, the Cowboys may have finally found their wining formula for the postseason.
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.