Mar 1, 2014, 11:57 PM EDT
The story of Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart in relation to the 2013-14 campaign is well-known by now. From the All-American guard surprising all of college basketball by returning for his sophomore year to his regrettable actions in Lubbock, Texas, the point guard has been one of the biggest stories of the season.
But where will the story’s final chapter be written: the NCAA tournament or the NIT? Given the Cowboys’ struggles, at one point losing seven straight games, it can be argued that the outcome of Saturday’s game against No. 5 Kansas would determine the answer to that important question.
And after struggling mightily for the first 28 minutes Smart came to life, leading the Cowboys to a 72-65 victory over the Jayhawks.
Smart finished the game with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists, but the box score doesn’t fully illustrate the fact that it was a tale of two nights for the sophomore. Smart missed his first seven shot attempts and also committed two turnovers in the first half, and some of those misses came as a result of Smart taking shots the team did not need at the time. Clearly the Cowboys need Smart to be productive in order to be successful, but just as important is the need for him to make sound decisions with the basketball and that wasn’t happening.
To Smart’s credit he did a far better job of this down the stretch, seizing the moment while not making the reckless decisions that contributed to Kansas building a ten-point second-half lead despite being far too lax with the basketball. Smart accounted for 14 points and three assists in the final 11:53 without committing a single turnover, providing the leadership Travis Ford needs from his point guard.
Let it be noted that Smart wasn’t the sole reason for Oklahoma State picking up a much-needed quality win for its resume, with Markel Brown scoring 21 points and Le’Bryan Nash adding 16 to go along with four rebounds. But Smart’s struggles, with his three-game suspension simply adding to the problems experienced in the games prior, were a big reason why Oklahoma State found itself mired in that seven-game slump.
Oklahoma State will go as far as Smart can lead them. At times it hasn’t always looked pretty, and that can be used to describe both Saturday’s game and the season as a whole. But the opportunity for Smart to put together a fitting conclusion to his sophomore season remains, thanks to his performance in the final 12 minutes of a game the Cowboys had to win.
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