By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
FORT WORTH – Oklahoma State’s redemption and resurrection tour made a stop at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum Monday night.
The last time the Cowboys had won back-to-back games came with a home court victory over TCU on Jan. 15 capped a three-game winning streak. Since then, coach Travis Ford’s team suffered so much misfortune that one computer rankings service has it ranked 10th nationally in “bad luck.” (Yes, it appears there are computer rankings for anything and everything.)
“We forget No. 33’s jersey tonight. I mean, c’mon,” Ford said. “I heard that and I was, ‘Sure we did, of course we did.’”
Luck had nothing to do with the result. Oklahoma State took care of business thanks to 15 3-pointers in a 76-54 victory over TCU. The Cowboys (18-10, 6-9) won for the second time since sophomore guard Marcus Smart returned from a three-game suspension. Phil Forte III tied his season high 23 and Smart, his high school teammate, had 17 points and they combined to make 10-of-19 3-point attempts.
Smart, who said he had about 50 family members in attendance, was unintentionally incognito. He wore jersey No. 43 because his usual No. 33 was accidentally left behind in Stillwater.
“It was kinda weird when they announced my name and said No. 43,” said Smart, who stuffed the stat sheet with eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals. “A couple of hours before the game they told me they had bad news, they didn’t have my jersey. I was gonna wear 35 but it was too big. … I’m not superstitious. I had a pretty good game anyway.”
Smart’s return and Saturday’s victory over Texas Tech cured a number of ailments. Ending a seven-game losing skid changed national perception. Oklahoma State is currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament bracket. At least, that’s the view of three different “bracketology” projections: CBSSports.com, ESPN.com and USA Today.
That of course means nothing to the NCAA Tournament selection committee. What is meaningful is the dreaded “bad loss.” TCU is a team winless in conference play, shorthanded and trying to end a losing streak that started in the first game of the New Year. The Horned Frogs played Saturday without starter Amric Fields and pushed Iowa State into the final five minutes before succumbing. Monday, TCU was again without Fields, started three freshmen and utilized two walk ons in its rotation.
“We had to get through and win this game,” Ford said. “When you start making threes, it makes everything look good. It wasn’t our best performance offensively but our defense was pretty solid.”
Despite its manpower limitations, TCU’s zone defense kept the Cowboys from finding a rhythm. Oklahoma State missed eight of its first nine shots. Ford called a timeout five minutes into the game and went to a half-court trap that helped energize his team.
“Our press helped us a lot, we got some steals and converted into offense,” Ford said. “It was out of necessity because we were so sluggish offensively to start.”
Oklahoma State made 13 of its next 21 shots with back-to-back Forte 3-pointers boosting the Cowboys to a 37-22 halftime lead.
The Horned Frogs (9-18, 0-15) went on a 10-0 run to pull to within 47-41 and forced Ford to call a timeout with 9:04 remaining.
Smart, who had missed six consecutive shots, nailed a 3-pointer from in front of the Cowboys’ bench, part of an 11-1 run that morphed into a 23-8 spurt and a 70-48 “game over” lead with 3:31 remaining.
"In the second half I want to say we were right there down six or seven, then basically I thought Marcus did what he had to," TCU coach Trent Johnson said. "He took the game over.”
Indeed. After hitting another 3-pointer, Smart came up with a steal and fed Forte for a transition three. Forte then swiped the inbounds and found Smart, who hit another from beyond the arc for six points in a nine second span for the high school teammates from nearby Flower Mound Marcus.
"We've experienced a lot of plays together like that, a lot of special plays," Forte said. "That's definitely one of the more unique plays we've had together."
Freshman Leyton Hammonds, who a week ago delivered a miracle 3-pointer to force overtime at Baylor provided a much-needed boost with a career-high 13 points in a career-high 24 minutes.
“I thought he’d be effective if TCU played zone,” Ford said. “With more playing time, you see what he can do.”
Hammonds’ contribution was much needed as the Cowboys’ big three of Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan were 5-of-29 before Smart warmed up to help put the game away.
“We’ve got three tough games coming up but we’re 18-10 in the toughest conference in the country, we’ve played a tough schedule,” Ford said. “We need to win a few more games, but we’re still in pretty good shape.