Smart Prints Out A Winning Finish

STILLWATER - The rowdy was there for the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Kansas Jayhawks. It reached a ear-drum busting crescendo when Marcus Smart lofted a 35-foot assist for the Mayor of Lob Stilly, Markel Brown, to acrobatically slam through as part of a Cowboy comeback midway through the second half.

It stayed loud as a few minutes later Le'Bryan Nash took a pass and dribbled down the baseline for a rim-bending slam dunk. The Cowboys had narrowed a once double digit Kansas lead to 52-49.

The noise was still there at the 7:10 mark when Marcus Smart passed up a three and dribbled inside for a short jumper that made it 54-51. Smart's free throws took it to one at 54-53. Finally, after a pair of Brown free throws, OSU had the lead at 60-59.

With both teams nursing players in foul trouble, Kansas with Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid all with four and Brown on the edge with four for OSU, the stage was set.

Marcus Smart had been scruffy all night. He did some good things but he was not the sensational player we'd all seen since his return.

Smart missed two free throws with Kansas up 61-60 that would have given the Pokes the lead. However, he turned around seconds later at 3:38 on the clock and buried a three to put the Cowboys up 63-61. He fouled Wiggins with two minutes left on a made basket that tied the game.

The next trip down he had a positive exchange under the basket with Brown for a key assist and a 66-64 OSU advantage. You see, one way or the other this game was going to have Smart's fingerprint on it. He was either going to be the hero or the culprit.

With 41 seconds left in the game, Smart crossed in front of the Cowboys basket and used a slick roundhouse move to score a lay up and a 68-64 lead. His next basket came off a mid-court feed from Markel Brown where he took the Jayhawks to the hole.

Two big drives erased a half of missed threes, made many forget that three-game suspension and put the thumbprint, index print, ring finger and pinkie, all of Smarts identifiers were all over this NCAA strengthening 72-65 win over Kansas.

"My teammates told me to keep shooting and they encouraged me," Smart said. "I stayed positive and kept helping my teammates. I let the game come to me in the second half."

"We pressured them Cowboy style and with our press," Brown added. "It is always great beating Kansas and Marcus attacking the basket helped a lot."

Then they came from all corners storming the court. Take that Jay Bilas, as Marcus and his minions enjoyed a sweet Cowboys win over Kansas.

Smart finished with 21 points, five assists, four steals, and having spoiled KU's Big 12 Championship celebration. Kansas had championship shirts printed up, and thanks to the Texas loss had the regular season title clinched for the 10th time. Those shirts were put under their bus for the ride home.

"He was really good the second half after we did a real good job the first half," Kansas head coach Bill Self said of Smart. "You guys know better than I do that after it was 52-42, but for them to score 30 points the rest of the half whatever the time was left we shouldn't have given that up," added Self.

"He was competing all night and playing hard," KU forward Perry Ellis said.

"We weren't aggressive and weren't attacking like we should have," Wayne Selden added. "We knew he was going to come out and play hard. We didn't do enough to stop him."

The first 20 minutes of the game looked like two teams that not only weren't in contention for the NCAA Tournament but two teams with stage fright for the ESPN national cameras. There were dribbles off the feet, passes that missed by feet and not inches, and off-balance wild drives at the basket that were not in character for either team.

Surely the pressure on the Cowboys to score a big bubble breakthrough win on their home floor or for Kansas the pressure of trying to stay in contention for a number one seed was not this ability numbing. Shooting percentages midway through the first half had the Cowboys at a chilly 31 percent and the Jayhawks found the often shooter friendly Gallagher-Iba rims very unfriendly at 25 percent.

That said, Kansas actually managed a 10-0 run -- although it was more of a 10-0 walk than run -- as it took close to eight minutes to reach the 19-14 advantage that had once been a 14-9 Oklahoma State lead. Credit KU guard Wayne Selden and the Cowboys Markel Brown for giving the game a slight semblance of offense as Selden had some of the best basketball looking plays of the half with an early drive and lay in and a slam follow off of a Naadir Tharpe miss.

For the Cowboys, it was Brown with nine first half points and the only three-pointer made by the home team. Unfortunately, the numbers at halftime with Kansas leading 26-25 were equally ugly.

The Jayhawks were 10-of-29 from the field for 35 percent, while the Cowboys were 6-of-25 for 24 percent. For the bonus of bad marksmanship there was the fact that both teams were 1-of-8 from three-point range for 12.5 percent. This really wasn't what college basketball's regular season mothership of televised hoops was looking forward to showing.

In the end it didn't matter because the cardiac Cowboys and their second half magician had the touch. The winning touch against Kansas and a big boost toward more basketball in March. There's still work to do for the Cowboys but a little more finger painting should get the job done.

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