Forte picked up the slack without Nash, who was averaging a team-high18.3 points and 6.7 rebounds. But with the Cowboys senior sitting in street clothes behind the OSU bench Forte hit two 3-pointers in the game’s opening minutes and didn’t slow down the rest of the night.
The sharp-shooting Cowboy guard was 8-of-13 shooting, including making 5 of 9 three-pointers, and made 11 of 13 free throws (both the free throws made and attempts are career highs) in scoring his 32 points.
The only other OSU players in double figures were Michael Cobbins, who finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists, and Anthony Allen, who contributed 12 points and seven rebounds.
"I wasn't necessarily thinking scoring, but everyone had to step up, whether it was rebounding or a steal here or there. Everyone had to contribute in some way and I was just thankful for my teammates," Forte said.
"They were looking for me and any chance they had to get me the ball or set a screen for me in transition they did that. That's the great part about basketball, it's a team sport and it's just whoever has the hot hand, we're going to try to go to that. Luckily tonight was me, and I just give all the credit to my teammates."
Forte’s 32-point effort bettered the 26 points he scored as a freshman against West Virginia inside Gallagher-Iba Arena on Jan. 26, 2013. In the Cowboys 80-66 win over the Mountaineers, he was 6-for-11 on treys and a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line.
"Outstanding, we talk about how everybody's going to have their night and obviously it was Phil's night," Cobbins said. "Everything he put up fell through, we just love to have him. He creates energy for everybody else and we just piggy-backed off of that."
The Cowboys fell behind 25-22 on the Mean Green’s Armani Flannigan’s basket with 7:59 remaining in the first half but sparked by Forte they went on a 20-4 run to take a commanding lead. The junior from Flower Mound, Texas scored 12 points during the run, including a shot-clock beating three-pointer from about 30 feet late in the last few seconds of the first half as the Cowboys took a 42-30 lead into the locker room at halftime.
"It was a big spurt led by three-pointers," Cowboys head coach Travis Ford said. "We needed somebody to step up because we were without 18 points from (Le'Bryan) Nash. I kind of felt like Phil Forte might have a big game.
"We were wondering where the other points were going to come from, but they came as a committee, and that's great. I thought Michael Cobbins played well. Anthony Allen played well. All of those guys' numbers were great. Two guys whose numbers might not have stood way out that really helped us were Anthony Hickey, who had five assists, no turnovers and seven rebounds, and Christien Sager, who gave us great energy minutes and really sparked us in the first half."
Forte finished the first half with 20 of the Cowboys’ 42 points, becoming the first player to score 20 points in a half since Marcus Smart went for 20 against Kansas last March.
"I just thank God and thank my teammates, those are the two things that are always there for me whether I'm playing well or not. The best part about tonight is my teammates were happier for me than I was," Forte said.
Forte’s 32 points is the most by a Cowboys player since Smart’s 39 against Memphis on Nov. 19, 2013.
Nash’s streak of 61 consecutive games in the starting lineup came to an end Wednesday night. He was not suited out while serving a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons, Ford said. Nash’s 61-game streak is the 19th-longest streak in school history. The Cowboys also were without senior Marek Soucek and sophomore Leyton Hammonds, who both were out with injuries.
"It was an incredible team effort," said Ford. "I love to toughness of our team and the mentality of our team as a whole. We were missing Nash, Leyton Hammonds and Soucek. Those are three of our post players, and this was a game that I was concerned about because we haven't really been practicing well, the guys we had out and the different defenses that they run.
"Our guys responded, and responded in every aspect, from offense to defense. Everything that we asked them to do, they went out and did it. We were changing things in timeouts, we were playing guys in positions they've never played and they just responded. It's fun to coach a team that has that mentality. I think we played 10 or 11 guys for double-digit minutes. It was a total team effort."
The Cowboys return to action Saturday when they travel to South Carolina to face the Gamecocks in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Tip is scheduled for 11 a..m. (Central time). The game will be shown on ESPNU.