9:00 PM ET, March 1, 2014
Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Oklahoma
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- Marcus Smart has calmed down, perhaps in time to save Oklahoma State's season.The dynamic point guard has been dominant since returning from a three-game suspension for shoving a fan at Texas Tech. In wins over the Red Raiders and TCU, he displayed a new sense of calm while averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 steals. The Cowboys (18-10, 6-9 Big 12) have bounced back from a seven-game losing streak and can strengthen their once-fading NCAA tournament hopes with a win Saturday at home against No. 5 Kansas.At times before his suspension, Smart pressed to score while he was in a slump, and his misses led to frustration that boiled over and cost his team. He has learned that his demeanor affects his teammates."The more fun and relaxed I can be, the more fun and relaxed this team's going to be," he said.Coach Travis Ford said the Cowboys are playing their best team ball in a long time, and Smart's new approach and renewed focus are the main reasons."I think the last two games, he's played the way that's made him one of the best players in America, and that's as far as if you look across the stat sheet, there's a lot of big numbers," Ford said. "When he's doing that, obviously, that makes him great and it makes our team a lot better."The Jayhawks (22-6, 13-2) already have clinched a share of the Big 12 title and can claim it outright on Saturday. Their success makes Saturday's game an ideal test for the Cowboys to see if they truly are back on track.The Cowboys have the Jayhawks' attention. Last season, they ended Kansas' 23-game home win streak, and Smart celebrated by doing a backflip. This season, in Lawrence, Kansas led by 17 at halftime, then held on to win 80-78 in a game that featured pushing, shoving and numerous technical fouls."I think the motivation is it's Oklahoma State, and we've kind of developed a pretty good rivalry with them," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "The last three games have been really close, last-possession-type games."Kansas features Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, freshmen who could be top picks in this year's NBA draft. Wiggins averages 16.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Embiid averages 11.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.Embiid, a 7-foot, 250-pound center from Cameroon, had 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks in the first meeting."He made some nice blocks, and he's got great timing," Ford said of Embiid's play in the first meeting. "You know he's in there. You know he's in there."Oklahoma State counters with Smart, a preseason All-American who averages 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds. Markel Brown averages 16.8 points and 5.5 rebounds and Le'Bryan Nash averages 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds.Oklahoma State has moved guard Phil Forte into the starting lineup, and the sophomore has flourished since Smart's return. In the past two games, he's averaged 21.5 points and made half of his 18 3-point shots. In the first game against Kansas, Forte came off the bench and scored 23 points."One reason why they're playing better is because he's played well, and he plays better whenever Marcus is in the game with him," Self said. "I do think that he's (Forte) tough to guard. He stretches the defense and really allows driving opportunities for some of the other guys because you can't leave him."Now that the Cowboys have put their distractions behind them and have returned to their winning ways, they feel the vibe has returned to the way it was when they won 15 of their first 17 games."You can tell that everybody's enjoying themselves a little bit better now," Smart said. "Everybody's lightened up. We're not putting as much stress on each other. We're just going out there and having fun."--Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .
|Avg Points Allowed||70.5||69.1|
|Conference||Big 12||Big 12|
*Marcus Smart scored 20 of his 21 points in the second half, including eight at the free throw line. Smart made his last 3 field goal attempts in the paint as he attacked the basket late in the game.[+]
Marcus Smart stepped it up in the last 10 minutes, scoring 12 of his 21 points without missing a field-goal attempt or turning it over. Oklahoma State outscored Kansas by 14 points in the final 10 minutes.[+]
Marcus Smart Saturday vs Kansas
Marcus Smart hasn't increased his scoring since coming back from suspension, but he's playing more like a point guard. He's improved his shooting from 3-point range, nearly doubled his assist average, and he's averaging 5 steals per game.[+]
Marcus Smart This Season - Before/After Suspension
Oklahoma State forced a turnover on 31% of Kansas possessions, the second highest turnover percentage for the Jayhawks this season (36%, Florida). The Cowboys capitalized with 21 points off turnovers Saturday. Oklahoma State is 12-1 this season when scoring at least 20 points off turnovers in a game. The Cowboys held Kansas to its lowest offensive efficiency in conference play (91.4). The Jayhawks are 0-4 this season when held to an offensive efficiency below 95.[+]
*Joel Embiid totaled 19 touches offensively against Oklahoma State. Kansas' offense was significantly more efficient through Embiid.[+]
Kansas Offense through Embiid
Marcus Smart has gotten off to real slow starts the last couple games. He's a combined 1-15 FG, 0-7 3-pt FG in the first half the last 2 games.
4 top 10 teams have lost already: 4 Syracuse 7 Louisville 9 Creighton 10 Saint Louis 5 Kansas visits Oklahoma State at 9 ET If the Jayhawks lose, Elias tells us it will be the first day that 5 Top Tens lost since January 18, 2003 Here's the scoreboard from that day: http://scores.espn.go.com/ncb/scoreboard?date=20030118
5 top 10 teams fell Saturday - all on the road From Elias: The last time 5 Top Tens lost on the same day was January 18, 2003[+]
Top 10 Teams To Lose Saturday
*Smart locked down Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins in the second half. After only guarding Wiggins twice in the first half, Smart held Wiggins to 3 points on 6 second-half possessions, including 4 turnovers.
ESPN Stats & Information