Forte Sends Brown, Smart Out Winners

STILLWATER, Okla. – Phil Forte wasn't about to let teammates Markel Brown, Marcus Smart and Mason Cox walk off the court on the losing end in their final game in historic Gallagher-Iba Arena. The 5-11 sophomore guard made six three-pointers and scored a game-high 23 points to lead Oklahoma State to a 77-61 victory over Kansas State on Monday night.

The Wildcats knew what Brown, Smart and Le'Bryan Nash could do but they weren't expecting Forte to beat them in the next to last regular season game of the season for both teams. After all, the long-range bomber had made just 2-of-13 three-pointers and scored a total of 18 points in three previous games against the Wildcats.

But Monday night belonged to Forte and the Cowboys, who won their fourth consecutive game to improve to 20-10 overall and 8-9 in Big 12 play. Kansas State falls to 20-10 and 10-7.

"They have three very good players, and when you let a guy like Forte get 23 you're really in trouble because the other three are going to get theirs," Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said. "Now you're really chasing them."

The Wildcats were chasing the Cowboys the entire second half after falling behind 35-27 at halftime. But Forte seemed to make the big shot every time Weber's team would make a run.

Kansas State pulled within 40-34 early in the second half before Forte drilled a trey – he would make 4-of-5 treys after halftime – to make it a nine-point Cowboys lead. A few minutes later, the Wildcats had trimmed the lead to 47-39 before Forte drained another three.

He added another three-pointer with just under eight minutes to play to give the Cowboys a 57-46 lead, and then his final trey of the game with 3:32 remaining gave OSU a 67-54 lead to all but sewed it up.

Forte said after the emotional pre-game ceremony in which Brown, Smart and Cox each received standing ovations that he was determined to make it a night for them to remember.

"I got a little emotional and teared up a little bit when I saw Marcus's mom come walking out there. It's the last time I'll play with him on this floor," said Forte, who finished with 23 points, 3 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a blocked shot while not committing a single turnover in 37 minutes of play.

"Markel has been a great leader for me since I've been here and we've been through so many ups and downs. I wanted to go out here tonight and just leave it all out there for them because they deserved to go out the right way. They deserve it. They put in so much work. You can't find two better guys right now that I could play with, so it's only right we send them off the right way."

Smart finished with 18 points (after only having two at halftime), 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. But it was his defensive effort in the second half to shut down K-State freshman Marcus Foster that he was most proud of after the game. Foster was averaging a team-best 15.1 points (16.3 in Big 12 games) entering the game, and kept the Wildcats in the game with nine points in the first half.

The 6-4 Smart spent much of the second half harassing the 6-2 Foster, who was held scoreless in the final 20 minutes and missed all six of his shots.

"Marcus Smart just locked up with Marcus Foster. He taught him a lesson," Weber said.

OSU head coach Travis Ford said, "You can't say enough about his effort. He is amazing defensively, because he can guard so many different positions and do it at a high level with great intensity. He soaks up the scouting report. He is really attentive to what we are doing defensively. What I loved about tonight and the Kansas game, is when he was struggling offensively, he was still getting after it on the defensive end. That's where we need to be."

Oklahoma State played the first 10 minutes of the game like the Cowboys were thinking about the pre-game ceremony honoring the three Cowboys playing their final regular season games at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

K-State's Shane Southwell's three-pointer with 9:35 on the block gave his team a 22-15 lead. But the Wildcats would score just two baskets the remainder of the half, and Brown showed why the Cowboys fans gave him a standing ovation when he was introduced with his grandmother, dad and sister.

The 6-3 guard from Alexandria, La., scored eight points as the Cowboys closed out the first half on a 20-5 run to take a 35-27 halftime lead. It was a total team effort, though, as the Cowboys received contributions from Kamari Murphy (4 points), Le'Bryan Nash (4), Smart (2) and Forte (2) during the final 10 minutes of the half.

Weber was impressed with what he saw from the Cowboys.

"They punched us and we slapped back, and that's why we got fouls. They played very determined. You've got to give them a lot of credit," he said. "Right now they're playing very determined. That's the biggest thing. I'm not real sure they played hard early but when the turned it up, that was probably the difference in the game."

OSU closes out the regular season on Saturday on the road against 16th-ranked Iowa State. The Cyclones defeated the Cowboys 98-97 in three overtimes in their earlier meeting this season at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Feb. 3.

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