Not sure what the future holds for Marcus Smart the rest of this season, or at the pro level, but when he looks back on his college basketball days, I think tonight will stand out among his strongest, happiest memories.
Because Smart and his teammates didn't allow big ol' Kansas to celebrate at Gallagher-Iba Arena. The Cowboys gave the Jayhawks their seventh loss of the season. After the game, even though Kansas technically clinched the outright Big 12 title (10 in a row; yep, it's just dumb) due to Iowa State's loss at K-State earlier in the evening, Bill Self ordered team managers to keep all league-winning memorabilia packed away.
Oklahoma State avenged its Jan. 18 80-78 road loss against Kansas with a 72-65 home win Saturday night. Fans flocked to the court and celebrated the win. It was in the preseason that this team was expected to beat Kansas, to win the Big 12. Only one of those came true, but the reason for the mass party is that the victory really helps the Cowboys' NCAA tournament chances going forward.
This was necessary in giving the Cowboys a chance at getting into the NCAAs and giving them hope they can make a run once they get there.
The outcome is even more important because of the way it came to be: Marcus Smart was awesome.
Marcus Smart is often awesome. By averaging 17 and a half points, nearly six boards and five assists (and he bettered those averages Saturday night), truth be told, he's still worthy of being an All-American candidate. OSU's losing and a three-game suspension disrupted how well Smart had been playing.
And so in the second half, with his team -- having lost eight of its last 11 -- desperately needing this game, Smart scored 20 of his 21 points in the final 20 minutes. The Cowboys are now 19-10 because Smart hit a big 3 from the top of the key with 3:47 remaining to put OSU on top 63-61. The Cowboys are now 19-10 because Smart hit two layups in traffic in the final minute, keeping the Pokes' two-possession lead a reality. He also didn't have a turnover in the final 10 minutes of the game.
It was never going to be that Smart shoving a Texas Tech fan (now three weeks ago tonight) that defined his Oklahoma State career. It will forever be a part of it, but it won't be the only facet to his time in Stillwater. Games like Saturday will also be part of the story.
Smart knows that winning March will do the most in terms of revising the national perception of him. This team has top-15 national talent. In a lot of ways, it's been disappointing the way a lot of talented teams have been this season.
But March allows for atonement. At their best, few teams are as dangerous as Oklahoma State, because this team boasts one of greatest guards in the game, and it's been that way most of the season.