What happens next regarding the NBA Draft for Smart remains to be seen. Even OSU head coach Travis Ford said he has no idea where his point guard will be playing next season. He won't be surprised either way.
But after the Cowboys rallied to defeat No. 9 Kansas State 76-70, one thing does remain certain, Smart's not ready to end this season anytime soon. Even if a huge win against a top-10 opponent might be his last regular-season collegiate game.
"This place means a lot to me," Smart said. "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."
But for a moment on Saturday, it looked as if Smart and the Cowboys were on the verge of a collapse. Kansas State started the second half with a 20-5 run.
That's when Ford called the timeout that swung momentum.
"We didn't come out at halftime the way we wanted, but I burned another timeout there with four minutes left," Ford said. "I wasn't very happy there, but I'm glad I called it because as soon as I did, K-State started celebrating and that was the best thing that might have happened for us. They start pumping their chests, so that's what I lead with.
"I said, 'Look at that down there, they've already celebrated a championship on your court. You have four or five minutes here to do something about it.' They woke up and their eyes got big. The first timeout I called was more about Xs and Os and the second one was about, 'playtime is over and it's time to get after it.'"
Smart led the offense down the stretch that gave OSU its much needed spark. An offensive foul he drew late helped seal the deal. He finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals.
Smart sang the alma mater postgame with the students who hope their chants persuade Smart to come back next season.
But Smart has bigger things to worry about this time of year. Including a possible run at a Big 12 Tournament Championship next week.
"I definitely heard them, but I tried to block it out," Smart said. "It seems like I at least hear it once a game now."
No. 13 Oklahoma State (23-7, 13-5): 76
No. 9 Kansas State (25-6, 14-4): 70
In a nutshell:
Gallagher-Iba was in rare form early. Markel Brown threw a behind-the-back pass to Le’Bryan Nash for the slam, tying it at 7 five minutes in to light the crowd. It was neck-and-neck for much of the first half. Marcus Smart pushed the lead to 4 points, hitting a jumper with 5:34 left. Smart and Nash was phenomenal in the first half, going 4-of-6 for 10 points. But K-State kept pace behind Rodney McGruder. The Wildcat senior had 11 first-half points, 6 coming from the 3-point line. But he Cowboys extended their lead, thanks in part to put-back dunks my Michael Cobbins and Markel Brown. OSU was up 36-30 at the break.
Shane Southwell hit a 3-pointer on the Wildcats’ first possession, and the Wildcats started rolling. They opened the half on a 20-5 run, aided by sloppy play from OSU. Cobbins had a simple inbounds pass stolen, Smart showed frustration while being pestered by KSU defenders and the Cowboys’ shot selection was subpar. It was the beginnings of what looked like an OSU collapse at GIA. But with 12:19 left, Brown found Smart on a lob slam that got momentum rolling for the Cowboys. At the midway point of the half, the Wildcats lead was cut to 53-49. Behind Nash, the Cowboys went on a 12-3 run of their own to tie it at 53. Smart hit an and-one lay-in to give OSU the 56-53 lead with 6:21 left. But Thomas Gipson, an underrated KSU big man, kept the Wildcats in it with strong play inside (STATS). With 3:54 left, Smart his two of three free throws to tie it at 61. Nash hit another lay-in on a strong drive to put OSU up 2 points. With 1:36 left, Brown hit two free throws to put OSU up 65-61. The Cowboys hit a few more clutch free-throws, and it was over. It’s the second win over a top-10 opponent for the Cowboys this season – 76-70 final.
By the numbers:
8: Rebounds from Phil Jurick, on Senior Day.
2: Missed shots from Nash – he went 10-of-12 from the field.
23: Regular-season wins for Travis Ford – tied for the most in his tenure at OSU.
36: Points in the paint for OSU.
61: Combined points from Smart, Nash and Brown.
56.8: Shooting percentage by the Cowboys – the second highest this season.
Le’Bryan Nash played in a high gear Saturday, dropping a game-high 24 points to go along with five rebounds.
"LB has learned that he isn't the greatest three-point shooter, and that's nothing against him," Ford said. "I don't mind when he's hot and rolling for him to shoot a three, if that's his fourth or fifth shot after he's made four or five.
"What he has figured out is that he likes to score and he wants to score with those percentages. He's realized he doesn't have to shoot threes and he hasn't been shooting threes for awhile. LB's understanding of what we need from him has drastically improved, and tonight I thought he was unbelievable, tremendous."
Phil Jurick played his last game in Gallagher-Iba Arena. He finished with 8 rebounds in 23 minutes.
"I thought he was a warrior, we really challenged him," Ford said. "Thomas Gipson really gives us problem for some reason, I thought Philip Jurick came up with some big offensive rebounds, but he also gave us a bigger presence around the rim and made it tougher for them score. He did what he was supposed to do for our basketball team. We don't ask him to score, but we want him to defend, block some shots, set some screens, get some offensive rebounds, and he played to his role tonight. I'm glad we won our senior night for him. I've never been around somebody who apologizes to me so much. Every time he does something wrong, he apologizes. After I'm yelling and screaming, it makes me feel bad. I yell for him to block out and he says, 'I'm sorry, coach.' He is the nicest young man, a very polite and nice young man."
OSU locked a No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, securing a rematch with Baylor in the first round.
"They are as talented as anyone in our league," Ford said. "They gave us problems; Pierre Jackson is one of the toughest guys to guard in the nation. They've got Isaiah Austin who's long inside, he gives us problems. They're a big team, their fours and fives are really big. We have our hands full, they beat us pretty good down there and we squeaked one out here, so they're going to have confidence going against us. But a new season starts and we're going to give our guys a couple days off to get prepared. First game is Thursday night at 8:30 pm, so we have to get ready to go."
UP NEXT: Baylor
The Cowboys will face Baylor (17-13, 8-9) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Big 12 Championships in Kansas City / TV: Big 12 Network / RADIO: KSPI 93.7 FM