Dallas Colleges: Marcus Smart
SAN DIEGO -- In a matter of months, it all crumbled. More like the brick exterior of an old church than a cookie. A gradual but obvious decline.
Marcus Smart returned to Oklahoma State to rid his program of the lingering stench that arose in the weeks that followed last season’s opening-round loss to Oregon in the NCAA tournament. He wanted to refine his skills in hopes of securing a lengthier future in the NBA, too.
But Smart had the chance to take a top-three slot in the draft a year ago. He came back to help his teammates -- his brothers -- make a run in March. To pursue a national championship.
Seconds later, it was over. And then, Smart walked off the court.
“It’s very difficult,” said Smart, who finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 steals and 1 block. “This team has been through a lot this season, a lot of downs and a lot of ups, and it’s especially difficult for me -- Markel [Brown] being a senior -- words can’t explain it right now.”
It was likely Smart’s last collegiate game, as most expect him to turn pro. He refused to discuss his future in detail after the game, but he suggested that the loss wouldn’t change that plan.
But the game, an 85-77 loss for No. 9 seed Oklahoma State, was also the conclusion of a bizarre season for the program. The Pokes entered the season tied with Syracuse in eighth place in the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll.
That position seemed solid. With Smart, Brown and Le’Bryan Nash anchoring the team, Oklahoma State had the look of a Big 12 and national title contender.
From there, calamity ensued. Big man Michael Cobbins suffered a season-ending injury in late December. In early February, Stevie Clark was dismissed by coach Travis Ford following an arrest. Smart shoved a Texas Tech fan shortly after that and earned a three-game suspension and national scrutiny. Plus, the team endured a seven-game losing streak.
And it was over, it seemed.
But somehow, the Pokes fought back and became just the second team since 1985 to secure an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament after suffering a seven-game losing streak, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And that’s notable, considering their challenges.
“In a sense, you could say that because 64 teams make it to this point and to be considered one of those teams is always an accomplishment, to be a part of this tournament,” said Brown, who finished with 20 points. “We fell short of our goals, but it’s always a positive when you get into the NCAA tournament.”
They could not escape their past in San Diego, though. Without Cobbins, the Cowboys were futile in their attempt to contain 7-foot-1 big man Przemek Karnowski (15 points, 10 rebounds). They couldn’t stop Gary Bell Jr. (17 points) or Kevin Pangos (26 points, 12-for-14 from the charity stripe), either.
Smart played 38 minutes even though he picked up four fouls. Nash, the team’s best threat inside, played just 17 minutes due to foul trouble.
The postgame news conference for the Cowboys felt like a funeral. Brown fought off tears from the podium. Phil Forte III buried his head in his hands.
Coaches, team officials and trainers stood along the concrete wall outside the locker room in silence.
But Smart told the press that he had no regrets about returning for his sophomore season. A day earlier, he’d discussed the bond that developed within the team as it endured the drama. And even though Oklahoma State fell short of its dreams, Smart said he was proud of its effort Friday and throughout the season.
“I definitely think I left it all out there,” Smart said. “This team left it all out there.”
And that’s not debatable. Oklahoma State’s determination cannot be questioned.
But the season will end in mystery. The Cowboys left it out there, but how much more would they have left right now if everything had come together instead of fallen apart midway through the season?
We’ll never know because it’s over.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Marcus Smart came flying out of nowhere, secured the ball and kicked it back out to a teammate, all in one motion.
Smart’s offensive rebound late in the second half of Oklahoma State’s 72-65 win over No. 5 Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday night sent a message to the Jayhawks and everyone watching:
Marcus Smart was going to impose his will during the final four minutes.
And that’s exactly what the Cowboys point guard did.
"He made big plays down the stretch huge plays," OSU coach Travis Ford said. "There aren’t many [players] that have his competitive toughness."
Competitive toughness, will and desire are just a few of the words that could be used to describe Smart’s excellence when it mattered most on Saturday night. Simply put, he took over the game with a mindset that he would not be denied.
"We were extra focused tonight," he said. "We knew we would have to close out the game down the stretch if it came down to it, especially if we wanted to win."
After that play, Smart was 3-for-3 down the stretch and made play after play while a Jayhawk squad, led by dynamic freshmen Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, didn’t have answers.
Smart had 20 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals in the final 20 minutes. Those second-half numbers came after a first half that saw him head into the locker room shooting 0-of-7 from the field with more turnovers than assists (two to one). The preseason Big 12 player of the year finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 1 block.
"My teammates stayed in my ear and told me keep shooting, keep driving and to just do what I do," Smart said. "They told me [to] let my defense create my offense, so that's what I was trying to do. I think I had four steals, so I got back to what I do, and I let my game come back to me in the second half."
His second-half performance was a not-so-subtle reminder why Smart entered the season as one of the national player of the year candidates. Images of him pushing a fan or smacking a chair in disgust during OSU’s struggles in Big 12 play have made it easy to forget why Smart’s name was on the lips of all college basketball fans heading into the season.
As the calendar turned to March, Smart turned his play up another notch.
"When you’re great at something and it’s not going your way for a while, you’re not just going to quit," Ford said of Smart’s first-half struggles. "Marcus struggled a lot, but then, he made a lot of big plays. After the game, I told him he's a piece of work. You have to stick with him because he's going to make plays. He's a competitor."
Smart’s performance helped the Cowboys improve to 19-10, 7-9 in in the Big 12 and extended their win streak to three games after a seven-game losing streak during February.
"Our focus was different tonight," Smart said. "Losing those seven straight games opened our eyes to a lot of things, with a majority of those being not closing out a lot of those games."
OSU’s tournament hopes have been in jeopardy since that seven-game Big 12 losing streak, but there’s no doubt where the Cowboys belong come tournament time in the eyes of Jayhawks coach Bill Self.
"They’re definitely a tournament team. They’re too talented," Self said. "They can get hot and make a serious run. There’s no question."
STILLWATER, Okla. -- The last time Marcus Smart had walked off the court, he was shouting, pointing his finger and slapping away the hands of anyone who tried to console him.
In his return from a three-game suspension that began with a shove at Texas Tech, Smart walked off court with a big smile. Then he gave his coach a big hug.
“It was good to see him smile,” said Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, who returned the embrace.
“Hadn’t see that in a while.”
The Marcus Smart who rose to college basketball stardom while playing with infectious joy -- instead of contagious frustration -- finally resurfaced Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena. The menacing two-way player resurfaced, too, lifting Oklahoma State to a convincing 84-62 victory over the Red Raiders to snap the school’s longest losing streak in 41 years.
“Marcus was the difference,” said teammate Le’Bryan Nash, who led the Cowboys with 21 points. “Getting our point guard back, our leader back, it was exciting. He controlled the whole game. That’s what we’ve needed. It was an ‘A-plus’ performance for him.”
In other words, Smart looked like his old self.
“It was fun out there for the first time in a long time,” Smart confessed.
The frustration of underperforming as his NBA draft stock tumbled on a team that was massively underachieving finally got the best of Smart on Feb. 8 in Lubbock, Texas.
Hearing something that may or may not have been said, he charged into the stands and shoved Texas Tech fan Jeffrey Orr, which prompted the suspension.
Smart was in Stillwater while his teammates got routed at Texas. He was in the locker room when they fell to Bedlam rival Oklahoma. And he watched on TV as they came up short in an overtime defeat at Baylor.
“It was crazy being able to practice with my team and not to get to play with them,” Smart said. “I felt lost.”
But while away, Smart seemed to find himself. He also saw some of what had been ailing a team that had lost seven in a row. And back on the court, he finally played without the draft or preseason expectations weighing down his broad shoulders.
"When he's playing his best," Ford said, "he energizes everybody."
After a four-minute scoring drought, Smart energized the Cowboys midway through the first half. Collecting a deflection, he flipped the ball behind his head to Markel Brown for an easy layup. After Phil Forte nailed a 3-pointer, Smart stepped in front of a Texas Tech pass and finished the play with a finger roll. Brown canned a 3 on the following possession, capping a 12-2 run that ended with Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith calling a timeout.
"Whenever you have a player of Marcus Smart's caliber, it can take you to another level,” Smith said. “They were energized having Marcus back."
During another critical sequence seconds before halftime, Smart muscled his way into the lane for a driving basket. He stole the ensuing inbounds pass and banked in the shot just before the buzzer sounded, giving the Cowboys a nine-point lead.
“It was a big momentum change for us,” Smart said. “Definitely got this crowd into it. Took the life out of Tech going into halftime.”
The Cowboys swarmed Texas Tech in the second half, before Smart delivered the exclamation point. In the last two minutes, he bounded through the lane for a left-handed jam. The next possession, after his jump shot was partially blocked, Smart managed to bat the ball to Kamari Murphy under the basket for another slam.
Moments later, Ford subbed him out to a standing ovation. Leading to a big Smart smile.
“Positive energy is kinda weird,” Smart said. “It becomes contagious. Losing was very contagious. With this victory, if we can play like we played today, maybe that can become contagious, and we can start a different streak. A winning streak.”
Despite losing seven in a row, Oklahoma State kept its NCAA tournament hopes flickering with Saturday’s win. Sure, the Cowboys hammered a Texas Tech team long on coaching and short on talent, especially with leading scorer Jaye Crockett hobbled by tendonitis in his knee.
But this wasn’t just the best Oklahoma State had played since Smart’s suspension. It was the best the Cowboys had looked at least since beating Texas in early January, and maybe all the way back to the nonconference portion of the schedule when they jumped to a 12-1 start and a No. 6 ranking in the polls.
“Doesn’t mean we’re back,” Ford cautioned. “Doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It just means we’re capable.”
The Cowboys had showed signs of being capable, even before Smart's return. Despite its depleted roster, Oklahoma State carried a lead over the Sooners into the final two minutes.
Having to use an array of walk-ons, the Cowboys simply ran out of gas at Baylor.
“The last two games, we played decently, played hard,” Ford said. “We were hoping that when Marcus came back, we would build on that and he would help us take that next step. Today we did. Don’t know about tomorrow. But we did today.”
If Oklahoma State (17-10, 5-9 Big 12) can keep taking such steps, the NCAA tournament could still be within reach. The Cowboys go to last-place TCU on Monday before getting Kansas in Stillwater next weekend. A victory over the Jayhawks might be enough to take Oklahoma State back to the right side of the bubble.
“When your back is against the wall, and that’s the only way out, amazing things can happen,” Ford said.
Especially when Marcus Smart is playing with a smile.
Just one month ago, Oklahoma State visited Kansas and lost the kind of game that still managed to spark optimism. The Cowboys’ rallied from a 19-point deficit and fell just two points short in an 80-78 loss.
No one could have envisioned a seven-game losing streak back then.
A month ago, Marcus Smart was still a viable player of the year candidate and the Cowboys were still a formidable group. For much of the season they were a trendy pick to reach the Final Four.
They looked good in wins over Memphis, a full-strength Colorado, and Texas. And despite bumps along the way -- such as losing starting forward Michael Cobbins to injury and Stevie Clark to dismissal -- they kept the fašade of holding it all together.
That’s no longer the case, as things continue to fall apart in Stillwater. Oklahoma State, which was once ranked in the top 10, might not even be a NCAA tournament team after Monday’s 70-64 overtime loss at Baylor.
The Cowboys have now lost seven consecutive games for the first time since the 1972-73 season. Three of those were without Smart, who will return to the lineup for a rematch against Texas Tech, as it was the loss in Lubbock that landed him a suspension in the first place. It was where Smart shoved a fan who was mouthing off in the stands during the final seconds of another frustrating loss.
The Cowboys were imploding before then, but in the chaos they maintain hope.
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said his team had to find an identity while Smart was sidelined. What the Cowboys seemed to discover was toughness, even in defeat. They played Oklahoma to a 77-74 loss on Saturday.
They rallied in the first half against Baylor despite Le'Bryan Nash getting in early foul trouble. The Cowboys’ best frontcourt option played just six minutes of the first half while little-used reserves Christien Sager, Marek Soucek and Mason Cox all found themselves in the rotation.
For a moment, it seemed like the reserves would mask their shortcomings as the Cowboys led 33-28 at halftime and maintained the lead until about six minutes remained in regulation.
Freshman forward Leyton Hammonds, who played just six minutes the entire game, made the 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime. It was just his third 3 all season.
Baylor, which was also ranked in the top 10 when league play started, was just as desperate as Oklahoma State for a win. And the Bears had a much deeper frontcourt to rely upon. They exploited an inside advantage, as forward Cory Jefferson scored 25 points and had 13 rebounds while center Isaiah Austin chipped in 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Bears controlled the boards 51-36 and outscored the Cowboys 16-1 in second-chance points.
Oklahoma State tried to counter Baylor’s brawn with its backcourt.
Markel Brown, the Cowboys’ second-leading scorer, played all 45 minutes and scored a game-high 26 points. Brown seemed to cramp up on one defensive possession to the point in the second half that he was unable to lift himself from the ground. That wasn't enough to get him out of the game though.
Phil Forte played alongside Brown for all but one minute of the game, adding 20 points for the Cowboys. But no other player scored in double figures. The Cowboys needed one more player to score.
They will now regain that in Smart, who will rejoin a group of teammates who haven’t given up on the season.
The Cowboys close with Kansas and Kansas State at home before their regular-season finale at Iowa State. That’s three games that could boost their resume and earn them a bid. Judging by their recent games, don’t be surprised if they’re not done fighting yet.
AUSTIN, Texas -- With less than three minutes left, the taunting was brief and almost merciful.
“Where is Marcus?”
The chant came from a small contingent of Texas fans standing under the basket, and lasted no more than one Oklahoma State possession. In this Frank Erwin Center crowd more than half-gone amid a blowout, everyone could hear it.
“Where is Marcus?”
Marcus Smart wasn’t in the building. As mandated by his three-game suspension, he couldn’t travel with his Cowboys to Austin. And without their star, an Oklahoma State team whose season is spiraling looked even more lost.
“This has nothing to do with Marcus Smart. He wasn’t here tonight,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “So we had to play with what we’ve got. We can’t get caught up in any of that, to be honest with you. I don’t even really want to talk about it. Doesn’t do us any good. This team has to form its own identity and get out there and play.”
The result might’ve been no different had the Pokes had Smart on the court. Texas (19-5, 8-3 Big 12) came out firing and stayed hot throughout, draining 11 3-pointers on the night and leading by as much as 29 at one point.
This one fell apart quickly on Oklahoma State, (16-8, 4-7), which gave up 54 first-half points to a team that had scored a total of 57 and 59 in its previous two games and was missing its top scorer, Jonathan Holmes, to a knee injury.
Going in, Oklahoma State liked its defensive plan in theory. Open up in the zone, defend Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh inside and dare Texas to make tough shots from long range.
The result: The Longhorns ran off to leads as big as 36-14, 49-25 and 54-28 en route to a season-best half. Javan Felix answered the challenge, dropping 17 of his game-high 27 in the first half and hitting a career-high six 3-pointers.
“Give Texas credit. They’re a team that’s last in the Big 12 in 3-pointers made and they go out and make 11 threes,” Ford said. “So they played well, they made shots, they did a great job moving the ball.”
Ford liked how his team responded in the second half, with more physical defense and better aggression on both ends, but there was no chipping away at a 21-point halftime deficit.
“We just waited until the second half to start playing how we know how to play,” OSU center Kamari Murphy said. “It was too late by then.”
In three weeks, Oklahoma State has gone from No. 9 in the nation to unranked and eighth place in the Big 12, a staggering slide that got worse Saturday when Smart shoved Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr at the end of a 65-61 loss in Lubbock and received a three-game ban as punishment.
“There was no way I would’ve thought we would’ve won the game the way we did. They’ve got a good team and it’s a tough situation for them,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “I really feel for Travis and their team. This is a team that, you talk about Murphy’s Law, what can go wrong has. But there’s still a lot of basketball left to play.”
Ford isn’t making excuses, but the days following that incident haven’t been easy. The Cowboys didn’t practice on Sunday and arrived in Austin late on Monday after a flight delay. They got in just one practice, around 6 p.m. Monday, to prepare for their stint without Smart.
Add up the loss of Smart, starting center Michael Cobbins (ruptured Achilles) and guard Stevie Clark, who was dismissed from the program last week, and you’re left with a brutally thin team in need of help.
OSU had no bench players averaging more than 1 point per game available on Tuesday, and just six players who averaged more than 5 minutes per game in Big 12 play.
“I hope we will be better Saturday as far as comfortability,” Ford said. “We had guys out there who hadn’t played very much.”
Added Murphy: “We knew that we would have to get extreme effort from other players that we aren’t used to.”
And now Oklahoma State is staring down a fate the program can’t get used to: Missing the NCAA tournament for a third time in four years. The road ahead doesn’t look any easier and it starts with a meeting with rival Oklahoma on Saturday.
“We’re going through a tough time right now,” Murphy said. “I think everybody in the locker room still has their head in winning. We’re not down, not blaming nobody else, not making excuses. We just have to find some way on the team, somewhere in our heart, to win a game.”
The question after Tuesday isn’t really, “Where is Marcus?” No, the better question is: Who are these Cowboys without him? They received a brutal and honest answer on Tuesday.
So, Marcus Smart pushed a guy. Maybe you heard a little bit about this? Maybe your entire Sunday was dominated by it! I hope not, for your sake.
- Our news story, with all of the pertinent info -- heavily reported by Andy Katz, Jeff Goodman, Jake Trotter and the Associated Press -- is available here. On Sunday night, Oklahoma State announced that Smart would be suspended three games for shoving a fan after an altercation. Smart accepted that punishment and apologized, but did not take questions from reporters. Neither he nor coach Travis Ford provided details on exactly what was said. The Texas Tech fan involved, Lubbock-based air traffic controller Jeff Orr, also apologized in a statement, and said he would not go to any home or road games. He also insisted he did not use a racist slur.
- The overheated reaction to what was essentially a slight shove -- Orr was moved backward, but never fell down -- cooled Sunday night, in large part because all of the parties involved handled their damage control exceedingly well, but also because the freakout was pretty silly in the first place.
- In the end, the only party that didn’t come out looking well was Ford, as our own Dana O’Neil unsparingly detailed Sunday night: “Ford has done nothing to help Marcus Smart this season. His failure to act is as much to blame for Smart's meltdown as Smart's own immaturity and lack of self-control. Given the opportunity during Sunday night's news conference to either own up to his blame or at least admit Smart had issues that led to this mess and three-game suspension, issues that he could have addressed, Ford demurred. Rather, he spoke about Smart, placing the totality of blame on his player's already overburdened shoulders.”
Now the Cowboys -- and hopefully everyone else -- will move forward, with lessons learned the hard way, beginning with Tuesday night’s game at Texas.
I think that just about covers it.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
Wisconsin survives Michigan State 60-58, in thrilling finish. On Saturday, Adreian Payne started for the Spartans for the first time since an early-January injury robbed him of seven key games in the heart of Michigan State’s conference season. He looked better than ever all afternoon, constantly challenging and pressing Wisconsin’s defense, finishing 9-of-16 for 24 points. His final three points -- a deep shot off a double curl screen that coach Tom Izzo dialed up down 3 with 15 seconds to play -- should have made him the hero. Instead, it only momentarily delayed Michigan State’s loss. Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson got the ball out of the rim, raced downcourt and iced a too-easy step-back midrange jumper that gave Wisconsin the win. (Oh, and for the record, Travis Trice's last-second return heave was agonizingly close.) It was a massive win for the Badgers, aided by a 3-for-20 night from Gary Harris, that helped ease their monthlong struggles in the Big Ten. Did they turn the corner?
Memphis got a nice win against Gonzaga. Saturday’s featured "GameDay" special was almost immediately overshadowed by the Marcus Smart mess, but for posterity’s sake, let’s note that the Tigers played about 32 minutes of very so-so basketball before turning it on down the stretch and edging Gonzaga on its own floor, 60-54. It wasn’t a statement win, or even particularly impressive. But it was a nice win all the same.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Creighton was upset by St. John’s Sunday night, but Doug McDermott’s 10 field goals pushed him to 1,000
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
(For two more in-depth previews of big games in the week to come, check back for Monday morning’s “Planning for Success” series.)
Oklahoma State at Texas, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Oklahoma State-related reasons for tuning in to this game Tuesday night are pretty self-apparent. But what about Texas? The Longhorns rose all the way to No. 15 last week after a series of impressive wins (Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor, and Kansas) but fell flat in a 74-57 turnaround loss at K-State Saturday. Smart-related drama aside, this is a big one for both teams.
Syracuse at Pitt, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Wednesday offers a massive ACC doubleheader on the mothership network, and for all the heat and pomp of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry, Syracuse at Pitt looks like the better game. The Panthers, and star Lamar Patterson, have struggled lately, losing home games to Duke and UVa and needing overtime to win on the road at Miami and Virginia Tech, two teams with a combined 19 wins between them. But the Panthers, who don’t turn the ball over often and record an assist on 63.8 percent of their made field goals -- sixth best in the country -- are inherently designed to work well against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, and nearly knocked off the ‘Cuse in the Carrier Dome on Jan. 18. It should be a good one.
Duke at North Carolina, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Just because Syracuse-Pitt looks like the better game doesn’t mean this one will be bad. Quite the contrary: Duke’s scorching-hot offense -- the Blue Devils have averaged a ridiculous 1.24 points per possession against ACC opponents -- will meet with UNC’s defense, one of the few things that the Tar Heels have been remotely consistent at this season. Jabari Parker & Co. should be able to get stops against a UNC offense that still hasn’t really figured things out. But if Duke’s scoring dips slightly, we could get a close, exciting addition to this legendary rivalry.
Florida at Kentucky, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: How about this week for Florida? On Tuesday, the Gators will be expected to beat Tennessee in Knoxville, despite the Vols being this season’s best example of a team that is much better on a per-possession basis (KenPom rank: No. 24) than their losses indicate. Then, on Saturday, it’s on to Lexington, Ky. to face the uber-talented Wildcats, their keyed-up offense and an insane "GameDay"-juiced Rupp Arena crowd. A split would be more than satisfactory. Two victories will speak volumes.
Villanova at Creighton, 5 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1: The last time these two Big East title contenders met, Creighton submitted one of the great offensive performances in the history of college basketball. The Bluejays also exploded Villanova’s previously stout defense into smithereens, and on its home floor to boot. The Wildcats could have fallen apart; they would have had good reason. Instead, they’ve rattled off five straight wins, the first three of them on the road, keeping themselves very much in the conference championship hunt. It’s safe to bet Creighton won’t go full Metal Gear Solid “Extreme” difficulty mode in the rematch. But can Villanova do enough to earn redemption?
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Basketball measures seconds in tenths. Humans can’t make these measurements, our brains don’t work that way. But we have computers now, and thus we have measurable fractions of time, and so officials often stop basketball and review computer monitors to make sure the computer clock is accurate. When they need to, they restore these imperceptible units of time. The difference between a clock that says .3 and .6 is a chance to take a shot, win a game, change a season. It’s important to be precise.
How long were Marcus Smart's fingertips in contact with Jeff Orr’s chest? Two-tenths of a second? Three?
In the 24 hours since, how many more fractions of seconds have already been spent -- wasted -- discussing it? How many milliseconds have Twitter’s servers devoted? How many minutes of your life have you devoted?
And how long will the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team suffer the consequences?
On Saturday night, after committing a foul and crashing into the stands, Smart turned, seemingly provoked, and shoved a middle-aged man wearing a black Texas Tech polo in his chest. That fan, an air traffic controller and die-hard Texas Tech supporter, didn’t fall down. He brushed back a bit, but he didn’t fall or go crashing back. He kept his feet.
Oh, the horror. Won’t somebody think of the children. Ad infinitum.
Reports that Smart reacted to a racial epithet fueled much of this ephemeral, weird debate. Memories of Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson surely contributed. But the whole thing was an overblown farce from the start, a pair of bad decisions by two men that indirectly revealed as much about those reacting to it as anyone else.
Hopefully, Sunday night will cool things off. At the news conference, Oklahoma State called to announce and discuss Smart’s three-game suspension for the shove -- which the school levied in tandem with the Big 12 -- the second-year OSU star took responsibility for his actions. He apologized to Orr by name. He didn’t take questions, and he didn’t place blame. Coach Travis Ford wouldn’t talk about what Smart heard, or thought he heard, and the topic was quickly dropped. The school made it clear that it was unacceptable to put hands on a fan while standing behind Smart’s intrinsic character. All vowed to learn from the situation, and athletic director Mike Holder was especially reflective.
“How we deal with it is a lot more important than what happened,” Holder said.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech released a statement from Orr (and a corroborating GoPro camera video) that claimed he called Smart “a piece of crap,” but did not use a racial slur. Orr also apologized, and volunteered to avoid Texas Tech home and road games the rest of the season. The response made it clear that there was at least some punishment involved for Orr -- a welcome tact in a culture in which fans think they can say and do whatever they want.
Save the occasionally strange response from Ford, it was expert damage control by everyone involved, from the Big 12 down.
Hopefully the result is a focus on the only place where this really was a big deal: The basketball court.
Oklahoma State’s next three games -- the three Smart will miss while serving his suspension -- are hardly easy ones. On Tuesday night, the Cowboys will play their first game without Smart at No. 15 Texas, where the lengthy Longhorns have morphed into one of the Big 12’s toughest teams. On Saturday is a return date with Oklahoma, which handled the Sooners with Smart in the first Bedlam game Jan. 27. Then there is a road trip to a desperate Baylor team in need of wins two days later.
It is hardly a stretch to think Oklahoma State could lose all three. The Cowboys were struggling before Saturday’s mess took things up a notch. Center Michael Cobbins' season-ending injury robbed OSU of an All-Big 12-level interior defender, and the Cowboys have been a far less imposing defensive challenge since.
Smart wasn’t playing his best basketball, either. His long-range shooting -- the tentpole of his offseason improvement -- has dipped below the 29 percent he shot as a freshman. But even so, he is still the Cowboys’ most important player, an elite perimeter defender whose penetration makes much of the Cowboys’ offense go.
If losing Smart means losing three straight games, are the Cowboys a lock to make the NCAA tournament? The question would have seemed silly a week ago, let alone a month; the only question would have been how high they’d be seeded. But combined with the loss at Texas Tech (RPI: 118), a 16-10 OSU with a good-but-not-outstanding RPI schedule numbers would no longer be a safe, guaranteed NCAA tournament inclusion. And what happens when Smart returns on Feb. 22, against Texas Tech? What about a road game at TCU on Feb. 24? What about back-to-back home games against Kansas and Kansas State down the stretch, and what about the season-ending trip to Iowa State?
“It’s incumbent upon all of our athletes, all of us, to understand the role that spectators could play in a contest, but that only happens if we allow it,” Holder said. “It has nothing to with what happens out there on the court unless you invite them in. In this case, not only was it a part of last night’s game, it’s definitely going to be a part of our future, too. Because there’s been some repercussions.”
That’s the lesson worth taking away from a Saturday night and Sunday filled with hyperbolic overreactions and classic Internet morality theater: That inviting the chaos outside the court on to it, even for a second, means losing control of what happens next.
How far into the future will these consequences extend? How long will a bad decision made in a fraction of a second affect Oklahoma State? Time will tell.
It’s sad, really.
This Marcus Smart who will probably be suspended soon. This frustrated sophomore who pushed a Texas Tech fan toward the end of a 65-61 loss to the Red Raiders on Saturday. This 19-year-old individual with a temper that’s complicating his season and his life. This poor teammate.
Even after the game had ended, Smart wouldn’t leave the floor. Team officials had to drag him back to the locker room as he pleaded his case. It was a bizarre, unfortunate moment in Smart’s career.
I don’t know the player I’ve watched in recent weeks.
This is not the young man I met and wrote about four months ago.
We were in Kansas City at Big 12 media day in October. We were in a room talking about the trials he’d overcome -- the death of a brother, a mother in need of a new kidney, a tough neighborhood -- and what this opportunity had meant to him.
Smart told me that he didn’t come back simply to achieve his personal goals. It was bigger than that. He thought he’d betrayed Oklahoma State fans when he failed to lead the Pokes past the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. He couldn’t get over that sour taste, he said. And even though he had the chance to be a top-five draft pick last summer, he didn’t want to be one of those one-contract guys in the NBA. He didn’t want to disappear after three years in the league. The only way to ensure that he’d last would be to come back and grow. Get better. Improve.
Saturday night didn’t help his cause.
Now, Oklahoma State might have to march on without him. Now, folks will call Smart a hothead, a label that sometimes sticks for a lifetime. Now what?
It’s too early to know exactly what happened with Smart and that fan. We only know Smart’s reaction.
It’s not fair. Life isn’t. But men and women in that spotlight, especially in the social media age, are subjected to levels of disrespect and hatred that few can understand. A refusal to respond does not constitute cowardice. It proves maturity.
And Smart had that chance. He had the chance to prove that a teenager was more of a man than some Texas Tech fan who might have aggravated him.
Instead, Smart placated his haters who’d already harassed him for the way he’s attempted to draw fouls this season. See: flopping.
Smart kicked a chair during a recent win over West Virginia. Since that incident, Smart’s negative demeanor has been one of the headlines for a troubled program.
He’s moped on the sideline. He’s been childish. He’s walked off the floor.
What initially seemed like a bad stretch for a good kid was actually the precursor to Saturday’s meltdown and another bad night for a program that can’t seem to do right.
Michael Cobbins suffered a season-ending foot injury at the end of 2013. Stevie Clark got kicked off the team earlier this week. Smart is struggling. And Oklahoma State has lost five of its past six games.
The last thing that Travis Ford needs is a period without Smart. But that’s exactly what Oklahoma State faces now.
There will be conversations about this incident’s impact on Smart’s draft stock. There will be conversations about his character. There will be conversations about his temperament. That’s unfortunate but warranted.
His aspirations are too grand to be marred by his response to the words and/or actions of some formerly unknown college basketball fan in Lubbock, Texas. His potential is too high to be jeopardized by this nonsense.
But it’s his new reality.
Yes, Oklahoma State is losing and Smart didn’t return for this. This is not what he expected. It’s not what anyone expected.
And he’s mad about it.
But his emotions don’t excuse Saturday’s reaction.
You don’t know what that fan said, though.
This season means too much to him and his future.
Smart’s decision to return for his sophomore season was a calculated move by a young man who wanted to do something for his program. He wanted to be a hero, while elevating his draft stock and prepping for a lengthy pro career. He wanted to put himself in a better position to be financially equipped to support the mother who sacrificed all for him. He wanted to help his teammates, his brothers, succeed.
That’s what he told me.
But everything he’s done in recent weeks, leading up to and including Saturday’s incident with that Texas Tech fan, has been selfish and foolish.
He’s better than that. That’s not him.
That’s someone else.
The guy who everyone saw on Saturday night at the end of that Texas Tech loss, however, is the only Marcus Smart they’ll ever know because bad reputations are hard, sometimes impossible, to rectify.
Even when they’re based on one incident.
And that’s sad.
Top of the list is why Clark would think that urinating out of a moving vehicle was a good idea. Outraging public decency, the violation cited in his arrest, sounds about right for this one.
Second is why Clark, who also was arrested in January for a seatbelt violation and then offered the added bonus of having marijuana in his car, would so much as jaywalk.
But Clark’s combination of stupidity and immaturity is the least of coach Travis Ford’s problems. (Officially, now that Ford made the easy decision and booted Clark off the team.)
Instead, here we are. The Cowboys have dropped three of their past four to fall to 4-4 in the league. They have just one conference win (Texas) with any meat on the bone and are a long way from sharing much of anything with Kansas.
Some of this is just bad luck. Michael Cobbins' Achilles injury has devastated the Cowboys’ inside game, and while Le'Bryan Nash and Kamari Murphy have tried to help inside, they can only do so much.
But some of it is self-inflicted, too.
Clark probably should have been booted in January. That was his second arrest since coming to Oklahoma State, and blown second chances are usually the sign of a pattern instead of the road to penitence.
Now his lack of concern for his team and his apparent disregard for his Bible studies -- according to a recent Oklahoman story, Clark was meeting daily with his mother, to prevent, in his mother’s words, the devil a chance "to get in and get busy" -- have left the Cowboys even more depleted on the bench. Oklahoma State went only seven-deep with Clark on the roster.
And then there is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. That would be Smart. The onetime lock for national player of the year isn’t even in the conversation right now. He’s in a woeful shooting slump (13-of-53 in his past four games) and has been relatively ineffective in the entire Big 12 season, shooting only 34 percent in eight games.
Worse, he’s acted less and less like the leader the Cowboys desperately need. A helpless chair took the brunt of his frustrations amid a lousy shooting night against West Virginia, and when people talk at all about Smart these days, it’s usually more about his flopping than his play.
If Oklahoma State is to salvage this season, it has to start with Smart playing smart and acting a whole lot smarter.
The Cowboys are at the strange time of the season when there is plenty of time to fix what’s wrong but time also is quickly flying by. We are a little more than a month away from the end of the regular season, six weeks from Selection Sunday.
What ails the Cowboys isn’t easy to fix, especially in the Big 12, but Oklahoma State had better start searching for some answers before a season that started with such promise ends in a heap of a mess.
The past two weeks of Marcus Smart's life have not gone unnoticed. Once the nation’s favorite player (literally), Smart has spent much of the past two weeks having any or all of the following brought into question:
- His once-lauded leadership ability.
- His body language.
- His enthusiasm for flops.
No. 1 is dumb. For whatever being a leader really entails, at least this much is certain: You don’t go from being the best leader in the country to a pox on your team simply because you got a little heated at referees that one time. No. 2 is dumber: Body language tea leaves are even less helpful than actual tea leaves. Unless you’re in the locker room, you know nothing.
All the while, the most important thing about Smart’s recent slide has gone overlooked: He’s shooting the ball horribly.
After Saturday’s loss to Baylor -- Oklahoma State’s second straight defeat, one made worse by the Bears’ own preceding struggles -- Smart’s 3-point shooting average is down to just 28.6 percent. That’s worse than the 29 percent he shot as a freshman. Save for that scorching night against Memphis, Smart hasn't exactly been Ethan Wragge, but his uptick in long-range accuracy was one of the main things differentiating his excellent sophomore season from his very good freshman one. Now, statistically, he is essentially the same player he was last season. A summer spent heaving 3-pointers, and the fearsome scoring weapon it seemed to produce, seems squandered.
Of course, the Cowboys have other issues, too. In back-to-back losses to Baylor and Oklahoma, Oklahoma State allowed 1.12 points per possession. Without center Michael Cobbins, a once-vaunted defense has been rendered average at best. And now, in order to avoid a three-game skid, that defense has to figure out how to stop Iowa State.
The Cyclones have had their own issues lately. The ankle sprain DeAndre Kane suffered at Oklahoma in early January didn’t cause him to miss any time, but it did affect his play. As a result, Iowa State’s offense seemed to lose some of the attacking verve that made it so special in November and December. Then again, the Cyclones’ stretch of four losses in six games included a split with the Sooners, two losses to Kansas, a loss to Texas and a win over Kansas State. Now that we know how good Oklahoma and Texas are, things don’t seem quite so grim.
In other words, what could be sold as a matchup of two good teams fighting their way through midseason struggles is really a game in which the onus is on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have to figure out a way to get stops without their All-Big 12 defender in the middle, and Smart needs to find his shot again -- if it is there to be found.
Last season, the answer was obvious: The Cowboys were defined by their defense. Nowhere was the impact of Marcus Smart’s arrival felt more acutely. In the matter of one season, Oklahoma State went from allowing nearly a point per possession to 0.90. The offense got better, but the gains were fractional compared to how Oklahoma State guarded.
This season, things are not so simple. Overall, Oklahoma State’s year-over-year efficiency leap on offense rivals 2012-13’s defensive jump. Meanwhile, the Cowboys' defense gives up 0.95 points per trip (adjusted, per kenpom.com) -- still very good, but a slight upward tick from last season.
Fortunately, one Cowboys trait has remained consistent all season: speed. Also fortunately, it’s one that Oklahoma happens to share and one that all but guarantees another gripping, up-and-down Big 12 affair Monday night in Norman, Okla. Because, believe it or not, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are more alike than different.
The Cowboys average a healthy 70.8 possessions per game. This season, Ken Pomeroy introduced possession length data into his team reports, which provides a fine-grained look at exactly how fast teams are on both ends of the floor. Oklahoma State wants to score in a hurry: It averages just 15.5 seconds per offensive possession, the 15th-shortest average in the country.
This all makes sense: Oklahoma State has Smart pushing the ball and Le’Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and Phil Forte filling in on the wings. Of course it wants to run. It also wants to slow opposing offenses down: Oklahoma State opponents take 18.3 seconds (rank: 272) to fully deliberate the best course of action. It is this ability to dictate games -- to push the pace on offense and then force a struggle on the return serve -- that makes playing Oklahoma State so challenging in the first place.
Meanwhile, in Norman, the Sooners’ success has been one of the surprises of the season. But it pales in comparison to the how. Lon Kruger’s reputation for smart, solid basketball teams -- teams that don’t hurt themselves with mistakes -- was well earned at UNLV, where Kruger’s teams rarely ranked above average in matters of pace.
His first two teams at Oklahoma largely followed that script. This season, the Sooners are positively run-and-gun. They average 72.9 possessions per contest and 1.17 points per trip, and they dispose of those possessions even faster than State -- in just 15.0 seconds, 10th fastest in college basketball. Much like the Cowboys, the Sooners also seek to delay opponents in defensive transition but they’re not nearly as good at it, which is among the reasons their defense is giving up 1.07 points per possession in Big 12 play.
That’s where the similarities stop. Both teams will be happy to play a fast-paced game. Both teams will look to score in transition and secondary breaks. Both teams will try to do that, all while halting the other. Thus far, though, there is no confusion about what Oklahoma is. It has to outscore you to beat you. Oklahoma State has more than one tool in its box -- and the best two-way point guard in the country to wield them.
Kansas has lost exactly twice in the past 46 games at Allen Fieldhouse, so the Jayhawks and their dedicated fan base tend to remember the L's.
Follow up a road win at the Phog with a celebratory backflip and you’re certain to never be forgotten.
Follow up a road win at the Phog and celebratory backflip with a shot over the bow directed at Kansas’ stud freshman?
Welcome to infamy, Marcus Smart.
The Jayhawks were in need of someone new to hate after Missouri ditched them for the SEC. Thanks to Smart’s perfect 10 and preseason suggestion that perhaps Andrew Wiggins play a game before being considered the greatest college basketball player of all time, Oklahoma State has at least temporarily filled the void.
To which we say, thank you, Mr. Smart.
The truth is, the Oklahoma State sophomore was merely doing what kids do when he turned his flip, and as for his preseason "knock" against Wiggins, he was just speaking the truth. The kid had to prove it.
But there is nothing like a little vitriol, contrived or not, to make a game more fun.
And Allen Fieldhouse will be a whole lot of fun Saturday for the 4 p.m. ET tipoff.
This game lost a little bit of its luster early, as Kansas’ record got a little sideways through growing pains and Oklahoma State regrouped after losing Michael Cobbins. But everything seems back in order.
The Big 12 right now is the best conference in the country, and with apologies to Iowa State, these are the top teams in that league.
Once dogged by questions of what ails them, the Jayhawks are hitting their stride. They have won three in a row, including an absolute drubbing of Kansas State and on the road at Iowa State. Wiggins, who was doing too much alone early in the season, now has plenty of help, much of it coming in the form of fellow lottery pick Joel Embiid.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have a three-game tear of their own to claim, with Smart averaging 22 over that span.
Aside from the sideshow shenanigans, what makes this game intriguing is that one team’s weakness is really the other’s strength. Kansas’ biggest attribute is its frontcourt, Oklahoma State’s the backcourt.
Naadir Tharpe has to find a way to stop Smart from driving the ball while the Cowboys, sans Cobbins, need Le’Bryan Nash and Kamari Murphy to somehow contain Wiggins, Embiid and Perry Ellis.
And then there is the X factor: Allen Fieldhouse, where Oklahoma State knows it can win and Kansas remembers ...