Forte Talks Shooting Struggles, Kansas State

In a wide-scope comparison of Big 12 freshmen basketball players, Marcus Smart is the exception. He's captured the nation's attention with leadership beyond his years, and consistency that ranks with the conference's best players. On the other hand, Phil Forte is the norm.

At times this season, the Oklahoma State freshman shooting guard has been phenomenal. The Cowboys' 3-point specialist dropped 26 points against West Virginia in January at Gallagher-Iba Arena. He's made key hustle plays in wins against Baylor and Kansas.

But at other times, Forte's been a complete non-factor, especially in one category. He won't back away from the question. What are you doing to break out of your road game shooting struggles?

"Honestly, I don't know," Forte said. "If I had the answer, I'd obviously do it. That's what I would be doing. It's something mental I just can't think about. It's obviously something I need to work on as I get older, but I can't really think about that. I just have to go out there with the right mental approach."

In Big 12 road games this season, Forte is 8-49 (16%) from behind the arc. In all other games, Forte is 55-135 (40%). It's an all too common problem for many young players. It's easy to play well in the comfort of a raucous home arena. It's a different story when you step outside that zone.

"If there's one thing I've learned in the Big 12, the whole season is a grind," Forte said. "There's going to be games where you played your best basketball and you feel really good about yourself. And there will be games, in my case, where I don't shoot well, I didn't play well. That's just how it's going to be. It's how you deal with the adversity.

"You can't get down. You can't worry about all of that. You just have to play your game and know that the 12 or 13 other guys in the locker room, that's really all that matters. As long as we're winning, you just have to do what's best for the team."

The road letdowns aren't a product of laziness. Forte's reputation as a gym rat among the team is widely respected. When Forte isn't spending roughly an hour before and after practice shooting, he's waking up a team manager for late night 3-pointers in the Cowboys' practice gym.

That's exactly why OSU coach Travis Ford isn't too concerned with Forte's development. Would he love Forte to break his road shooting slump when the Cowboys head to Kansas City next week for the Big 12 tournament? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, Forte is still just a freshman. Expectations are high, but realistic.

"I think he's had a great season so far, it's probably been typical of a freshman, figuring a lot of things out," Ford said. "He's never had to play against such scouting reports … how many teams are keying in on him. It's amazing for a guy who's our fourth leading scorer. They do not leave him. That's probably a smart thing to do.

"He's adjusting to that. That takes time. It's going to take after the season is over to really embrace learning from all that. But I think he has been tremendous. He plays great defense, he plays hard and you know what to expect out of him. Some nights he's going to make shots, some nights he's not."

With one home game remaining, Forte is embracing the opportunity to end the season on a hot streak, especially with the emotion of Senior Day at hand.

"Knowing it's our last game of the season at home, we want to go out the right way," Forte said. "For Big Phil, we want to send him out the right way too. He's been through a lot with his injuries, he means a lot to this team, this program."

Another interesting note entering the Kansas State game: Forte is one make away from breaking Keiton Page's mark of 3-point baskets as a freshman. In the 2008-09 season, Page went 63-158. Forte is currently 63-184 from behind the arc.

Forte laughed when he heard the news. It's a compliment to just be compared to the former Cowboy. But Forte said he could go without a 3-point bucket rest of the season, and it wouldn't matter.

"As long as we win," he said.


UP NEXT: Kansas State
The Cowboys host Kansas State (25-5, 14-3) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Gallagher-Iba Arena / TV: Big 12 Network / RADIO: KSPI 93.7 FM

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