Forte Gets Ultimate Redemption In Victory

KANSAS CITY — The look on Phil Forte's face was somewhere between shock and pain with 19 ticks left in regulation inside the Sprint Center. Seconds earlier, the whistle blew as the Oklahoma State freshman flew past Baylor guard Gary Franklin's 3-point attempt. In an instant, Forte was the assailant in the coveted 4-point play. To make things worse, the extra free throw tied it at 72.

OSU forward Brian Williams looked into Forte's eyes; color-draining from the Cowboy who committed the biggest mistake of the biggest game.

"He looked like he threw the game," Williams said.

In many ways, this moment provided Forte's biggest weakness and strength. Yes, much of the blame would have rested on his shoulders had the Cowboys lost — despite a total-team letdown after the break, a 18-point halftime lead squandered, only six field goal makes in the second half (All from Le'Bryan Nash). And yes, many would point to Forte's age as the reason for error.

But in another light, Forte's foul symbolizes what makes him Big 12 battle tested. Had he not slapped Franklin's arm as he ran past, he would never had the chance to redeem himself and the Cowboys from an embarrassing exit from the Big 12 Tournament.

"As bad as I felt about fouling him, if I make one free throw, we win the game still," Forte said.

Remember, Forte won back-to-back state championships at Flower Mound High School. The big-game spotlight is a friend — not a foe.

"I just grew up where the next play was always the most important thing," Forte said. "No one's perfect. You're going to make mistakes. The mistake I made was just a really big mistake. You just have to forget about it. And I had a chance with 2.9 seconds."

On OSU's final possession, Forte trailed Marcus Smart through the lane. Smart popped the ball back to Forte, who handled it in stride for the layup. What happened next can be debated. Did Deuce Bello reach in? Did Forte has full possession of the ball? Either way, it resulted in Forte's ultimate redemption.

"I think I got fouled," Forte said. "I'm sure they're thinking that it wasn't a foul. But I didn't I foul the three at the end. That's just kind of how the game goes."

Forte stepped to the line having made all four of his previous free throw attempts during the game. He entered the contest shooting 90 percent from the stripe. The years of shooting hundreds, if not thousands, of jumpshots a day that ultimately led to a college scholarship would prove to be the difference.

After sinking the first free throw, OSU coach Travis Ford called a timeout. At first, he told Forte to miss. He flip-flopped, telling Forte to go ahead and make it. It almost cost the Cowboys.

Had Pierre Jackson not missed what would have been the game-winning 3-pointer, Forte would have had that same look Williams described with 2.9 seconds left. Luckily, Jackson's heroics proved too little, too late. The Cowboys won, 74-72.

"I made sure I didn't foul him on that one," Forte laughed.

If anything, Forte continued to earn the respect and admiration from his fellow teammates after Thursday night. As Williams put it: "He's not your ordinary freshman. It was huge."

"I'd rather win by 20," Forte said. "It would be a lot less stressful."

You're not alone, Phil.

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NOTES:

Score:
No. 14 Oklahoma State (23-7, 13-5): 74
Baylor (18-13, 9-9): 72

By the numbers:
5: Cowboys who recorded double-digit scoring figures — Nash, Markel Brown, Michael Cobbins, Le'Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart.
6: Made field goals for OSU in the second half — all from Le'Bryan Nash
13: Missed Baylor 3-pointers in the first half.
50: Percent 3-point shooting by Baylor in the second half — On 5-of-10 shooting.
62: Combined free-throw attempts from both teams.
17,257: Attendance at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

Nash takes over
After going 0-4 before the break, Le'Bryan Nash was the only Cowboy to record a field goal in the second half. His 14 points were instrumental in carrying OSU into the semifinals.

"Well, he didn't play too well the first half," Ford said. "We weren't getting him in position where he likes to get the ball a lot. In the second half he got the ball in some areas, with some mismatch. They went four guards last five minutes of the game, I guess. And it's tough for guards to guard him down there.

"That's difficult at times for him. And I know when LB's (Nash) rolling, and you can get a feel. And we ran a lot of stuff for him to get the ball."

Williams recovery
Brian Williams played just nine minutes on Thursday. His stat line: 1-1 FG, 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal. Williams is still recovering from wrist surgery that was once believed to be season ending.

"(My wrist) is about the same, 60-to-70 percent," Williams said. "They told me it won't be back (to 100 percent) until two or three months out of the season. But I'm as good as I'm gonna get right now.

"I've just got to be a role-player now, do whatever coach needs me to do. Do what my team needs me to do. That wasn't a lot tonight, so I'll just be ready for the next one."

Second-half letdown
After getting up by 18 points at halftime, the Cowboys looked like they'd easily move on and advance. But Baylor stormed back. Is Travis Ford concerned about his team's focus moving forward?

"No, not at all," Ford said. "Not at all. Second half was more about Baylor than it was about us. What happened to our offense is what happened to our defense. We were scoring so many points off our defense in the first half, we couldn't get any stops in the second half to get out on the break and create some things.

"Again, and Baylor really played great defense. I just got through obviously in the last couple of days watching them play Kansas on Saturday. That's the team they we played really, really well the first time. They played really well the second half. That's what happened, period."

UP NEXT: Kansas State
The Cowboys will face Kansas State (26-6, 15-4) at 9 p.m. Friday in the semifinals of the Big 12 Championships in Kansas City / TV: Big 12 Network / RADIO: KSPI 93.7 FM


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