MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — What Marcus Smart did to Texas on Wednesday night was “ridiculous”—at least that was Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford’s description after his point guard compiled 24 points, 11 rebounds and six steals in an 87-74 victory.
The multi-dimensional Smart has become the face of the Big 12 this season, one he could be spending in the NBA if not for a romanticized view of college life keeping him in Stillwater a second year. Here was a kid on the cusp of millions, projected to go among the top three picks in last summer’s NBA draft, yet waxing grateful about the fact his room, board and tuition were being covered at OSU.
Instead of diving into the big-business grinder of professional hoops, he’s a humble and hungry superstar aiming to take the Cowboys to a Big 12 title. The chase didn’t start so well when Oklahoma State was ambushed in its league opener at Kansas State last weekend, so Smart and his crew are eager to right their road wrongs with Saturday’s game at West Virginia.
“If you want to win the league, you’re going to have to come up with some road wins,” said Ford, whose team went 5-4 in Big 12 road games last year and finished a game off the pace. “There’s no way around that.”
As brilliant as Smart was last season—claiming Big 12 player of the year honors—WVU never witnessed his best. He averaged 13.5 points on 8-of-19 shooting and had combined two-game totals of four rebounds, eight assists and 10 turnovers. Yet Oklahoma State still swept the season series 80-66 and 73-57.
Will the outcome of the next meeting be any different? The Mountaineers have reason to hope so, returning to Morgantown after narrow wins at TCU and Texas Tech.
Said Juwan Staten, who figures to be matched up against Smart for much of Saturday’s game: “The fact that we got two games on the road, we’re feeling confident coming back home.”
Confidence is one thing, but precedent is another. The Mountaineers have frustrated themselves and their fan base by failing to win against the high-profile quartet of Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga and Purdue. With at least 11,000 fans expected to turn out. Saturday’s showdown against the No. 11 Cowboys offers another proving ground.
“We’ve had a number of chances this year to get big wins, and we haven’t seemed to come out on top,” Staten said. “But we’re still plugging away at it, and we think that those games have helped us and prepared us for the game we’re going to play (vs. OSU).”
Added coach Bob Huggins: “We’ve got to finish games better than we have up to this point.”