Marcus Smart left one last impression on Texas Tech, and in doing so made sure that Oklahoma State would get its high-profile showdown with Kansas in the Big 12 tournament.
It just happens to be in the quarterfinals rather than the championship game.
The sophomore guard finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and six steals in a virtuoso performance Wednesday night, leading the seventh-seeded Cowboys to an 80-62 rout of No. 9 seed Texas Tech. It was the fifth win in six games for Oklahoma State, which along with the top-seeded Jayhawks was picked as one of the preseason favorites to win the league championship.
"We've had a lot of downfall this year and this season, but everything happens for a reason," said Smart, whose team weathered his three-game suspension for shoving a Texas Tech fan, not to mention a seven-game losing streak that put Oklahoma State's NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy.
"When your back's against the wall," Smart said, "all you can do is lean on your teammates."
Teammates such as Markel Brown, who scored 20 points, and Phil Forte, who had 14 off the bench Wednesday night. Le'Bryan Nash added 10 points in a game that was under control by halftime.
"I think our best basketball is still ahead of us," Brown said.
Jaye Crockett led the Red Raiders (14-18) with 20 points, despite twisting his right knee and limping off the court in the first half. Dejan Kravic added 18 points and 12 rebounds.
"It's just frustrating when you put so much into it," Crockett said. "We got down, we weren't following the rules coach wants us to stick to and we made dumb mistakes."
The result was a season-ending loss for Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, who had never had a losing record in 23 seasons coaching Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and now the Red Raiders.
"It's a rude awakening, your first experience at this Big 12 tournament," Smith said with a shrug. "A lot of credit to Oklahoma State. They were ready."
Not at the start, when the Red Raiders raced to an 8-0 lead. But that turned out to be merely a charade as Oklahoma State turned up its full-court press, flustered the sloppy Red Raiders into 14 first-half turnovers and went on a 28-5 run to seize control of the game.
Brown and Smart did most of the damage during the decisive run, which ended with a play that might as well have been a microcosm of the entire first half: The Red Raiders' Robert Turner turned the ball over near midcourt, Brown ran out ahead of the pack and leaped up, throwing down a stylish reverse dunk that gave the Cowboys a 28-13 lead.
"Our offense wasn't clicking the first eight minutes and I just wanted to make a play for my team," Brown said. "That's when our defense came along."
Oklahoma State slowly pushed its advantage to 40-19 with a few minutes left in the half, then scored the final six points to carry a 46-23 lead into the break.
"I think we were just rushing things too much," Kravic said. "We didn't really make the passes, we rushed it too much and we let it get to our heads."
Texas Tech displayed a faint pulse out of the locker room, scoring the first seven points and forcing Cowboys coach Travis Ford to burn a timeout. But Smart scored to end the run, and then the Cowboys resumed their parade to the foul line, never allowing the Red Raiders to get close.
"We've been very aggressive the last five or six games," Ford said. "I was upset the way we started but I wasn't overly concerned. I thought we'd get into a flow."
Both teams seemed to go through the motions the last few minutes, the Red Raiders preparing for their long offseason and the Cowboys resting up for their marquee matchup with Kansas.
Oklahoma State lost to the Jayhawks on the road early in the conference season, and then beat them in Stillwater earlier this month. Both of the meetings came down to the wire.
"They're one of the great teams in the country and they've proven it all year long," Ford said. "It's going to be an incredible challenge. We have a lot of respect for Kansas. We understand how good they are."
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