Only five players in the Big 12 have played more minutes this season than Oklahoma State freshman point guard Marcus Smart.
But his absence, Cowboys coach Travis Ford said, oddly was the reason for a spirited victory Saturday at West Virginia.
Smart, a national player of the year candidate, has been exceptional after a standout career at Flower Mound Marcus High School.
But after he committed three quick fouls against the Mountaineers, OSU (20-6, 10-4 Big 12) was forced to play much of the first half without him.
“You never want to have your starting point guard, or anybody, to get three fouls in the first three minutes,” Ford said. “That’s not a perfect scenario on the road or at home, it doesn’t matter, but in some strange way it got us refocused. I mean, we don’t hope for it to ever happen again. But I think once he got that third foul and we kind of saw how things were going, it refocused us really, really quick and re-energized some players to say, ‘Hey, Marcus is not out here and we all are going to have to raise our level of play here and buckle down. We’re in a hole, we’ve lost our starting point guard, things were going against us at that point.’ ”
Smart is tied for fourth in the league in scoring, averaging 15 points, and sixth with 4.3 assists. He’s also in the league’s top 20 in rebounds, pulling down 5.7 a game. The 15th-ranked Cowboys play TCU (10-17, 1-13) at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. Smart’s return to North Texas, along with his high school teammate and fellow freshman Phil Forte, may be one reason the game is sold out. Forte is averaging 11 points off the bench for the Cowboys.
The two led the Marauders to Class 5A championships in 2011 and ’12.
But as amazing as Smart’s game performances have been, his coach has been more amazed by his work ethic.
“I, obviously, saw him a lot when we were recruiting him, so we kind of knew what we were getting,” Ford said. “What has just been so — I don’t know if ‘surprised’ is the right word — is just how hard he goes at it every day. I mean, it’s not just the games. It’s every day in practice that he’s able to sustain it the way he does is what has amazed me. The way he has played, to be honest with you, has not surprised me. I think he’s a special player.”
He has impressed the rest of the league’s coaches immensely with his unselfish style of play, and his inclination to do all the little things necessary, as well as coming up big in the clutch. A typical non-showy night for Smart was his performance in OSU’s 63-45 win against TCU Jan. 9 in Stillwater, Okla. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting, with three assists and five steals.
“I’m probably as impressed as any kid I’ve seen since I’ve been a head coach,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “Considering his leadership, considering his ability to make plays when they need him. He does so much, whether it’s a screen, or it’s the right pass that leads to the assists, or it’s getting a rebound to help them win. He’s just a winner. That’s the only way you can put it, and he does what that team needs to win.”