Texas became the latest team to extend Oklahoma State’s puzzling slide from Top 10 team to Big 12 bottom-feeder. But the 19th-ranked Longhorns became the first to do it without having to face Cowboys star Marcus Smart.
The Longhorns took full advantage of Smart’s absence in a 87-68 victory Tuesday night in the Frank Erwin Center, posting their highest-scoring first half of the season (54 points) and moving within one game of first place in the league standings. OSU, the No. 8 team in The Associated Press poll just two weeks ago, suffered its fifth consecutive loss and sixth in seven games.
Smart, an All-America guard who leads the Cowboys (16-8, 4-7 Big 12) in scoring, sat out Tuesday’s contest as part of a three-game suspension for pushing Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr in the final seconds of Saturday’s loss in Lubbock.
With Smart (17.5 ppg) nowhere in the building, Texas (19-5, 8-3) seized control quickly despite playing without its leading scorer, forward Jonathan Holmes, who sat out because of a sprained knee sustained in Saturday’s loss at Kansas State.
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But the Longhorns hardly missed Holmes or his 13.1 scoring average while taking dead aim from behind the 3-point arc early and often against the Cowboys. Texas, which entered the game hitting only 32.8 percent of its 3-point shots (next-to-last among Big 12 teams), buried 8 of 15 in the first 16 minutes against OSU, led by Javan Felix (game-high 27 points) and Connor Lammert (nine points, nine rebounds).
The duo combined to hit 7 of 11 from behind the arc in the opening half, putting Texas on pace to bury a season-high 11 3-pointers. The Longhorns, who had only one turnover in the first 19 minutes while building a 54-31 lead, actually connected on a higher percentage of their long-range attempts (47.8 pct.) than overall shots (47.3 pct.) while avenging an 87-74 loss to OSU on Jan. 8 in Stillwater, Okla.
Felix finished 6 of 8 from behind the arc after being urged by coach Rick Barnes to be more aggressive with his shot selection because of Holmes’ absence. OSU coach Travis Ford said his pregame plan to protect the paint by playing a tight zone left Felix open, and the sophomore surprised him with his accuracy.
“I know I can make those shots. It’s just a matter of me taking them,” said Felix, who entered the game as a 30.3 percent shooter from behind the arc. “Coach came up to me before the game and said, ‘Be aggressive and set the tone for your teammates.’ Especially with Jonathan out, that’s what I tried to do.”
Eventually, the Cowboys absorbed their most lopsided loss since falling at Baylor 106-65 on Jan. 14, 2012. Without Smart, OSU struggled with a makeshift lineup and inconsistent point guard play.
The Cowboys made a season-low 35.6 percent of their shots and trailed by double-digit margins for the final 31 minutes. The lopsided contest created a festive atmosphere for the 7,730 in attendance, with Texas students chanting, “Where is Marcus?” during the final two minutes
“I hope we will be better Saturday in terms of comfort. We had guys out there who have not played the point very much,” Ford said, looking ahead to the team’s next game without Smart. “But there are no excuses. Texas played real well out of the gate.”
Asked about missing Smart, Ford said: “Marcus brings some great facets to our team. And I think he’ll be even better when he comes back.”
But he cannot return until Feb. 22. With upcoming games against Oklahoma (Saturday) and Baylor (Monday), OSU could be staring at a 4-9 record in league play by the time Smart returns to the court.
Texas, meanwhile, showed some versatility with its offense while climbing within a game of No. 7 Kansas (18-6, 9-2) in the Big 12 standings.
“We had guys who were a little bit more locked in and focused … than we had the last two games,” Barnes said, reflecting on last week’s 59-54 win over TCU and Saturday’s 74-57 loss at Kansas State. “The last two games, we got too hesitant to shoot the ball. We were dribbling too much. We did a nice job of coming back and playing as a team.”
In the process, Texas became the latest team to expedite Oklahoma State’s ongoing slide toward the bottom of the Big 12 standings.