STILLWATER, Okla. — West Virginia reduced Marcus Smart to a chair-kicking, fuming shell of his All-American self. Before fouling out in the final minute, he missed 6-of-7 shots, glared after whistles went against him and scored a season-low four points.
Yet No. 11 Oklahoma State, even with its NBA-ready point guard trudging through an abysmal day, relied on its other components—in particular, Le’Bryan Nash playing like LeBron—to keep West Virginia at bay, 81-75.
Nash poured in a career-best 29 points and five Cowboys not named Smart scored in double figures, giving OSU (16-3, 4-2) its second narrow escape against the Mountaineers in two weeks.
“I think he’s probably the hardest (player to) guard in our league,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “He can bounce it. If you let him catch it inside of 15 feet, he’s got a great chance to score. He’s been terrific all year.”
Nash scored 18 in Morgantown on Jan. 11, but that was only a precursor to his exceptional performance in the rematch. The junior forward sank 10-of-13 shots—several coming off putbacks as he claimed nine rebounds—and also made 9-of-14 free throws.
“If I get going, I feel like I’m hard to stop,” said Nash, who raised his scoring average to 14.1 per game. “I really believe that in myself, I feel like I’m a great scorer. I’m just playing hard and it comes natural for me.”
Nash also fouled out, one of six players disqualified in a game that featured 56 fouls—32 of those against West Virginia.
Eron Harris, thanks to making 6-of-7 from 3-point range, did 21 points worth of damage in only 21 minutes. But he fouled out with 3:36 left, mere seconds after his back-to-back 3s pulled WVU to within 70-67.
Devin Williams, Gary Browne and Nate Adrian also fouled out for the Mountaineers (11-9, 3-4), who were so racked with foul trouble in the first half that walk-on Tyrone Hughes made his first non-garbage time appearance.
Hughes was on the court at the end of the opening half when Oklahoma State went on a 10-0 run to lead 42-35. Though that felt like a backbreaking sequence, Harris scored nine quick points to start the second half and WVU was back in it for good.
“(At halftime) we knew we’ve got grind it out, which we did,” said Harris.
Juwan Staten finished with 19 points, four assists and four rebounds, while also losing five turnovers. He drew a couple fouls from Smart as the two point guards hit the floor after several collisions.
“(Smart) likes to be physical, so you have to be physical back,” Staten said. “You try to get in his head a little bit, try to get him to commit some fouls he doesn’t want to commit, try to get him in foul trouble. That’s what we did.
“We knew that if we could get him in foul trouble and slow him down that we’d have a pretty good chance of winning this game.”
And West Virginia had its chance, rallying from nine points down to trail 75-72 with 44 seconds left. That’s when Adrian, moments after draining a 3 from the top of the circle, caught a pass from Staten on the right wing. This time the freshman’s 3 bounced off the back rim, and he promptly grabbed OSU’s 90-percent foul shooter Phil Forte.
“This is the first time Nate’s been put in this situation—playing a team like this on the road,” Staten said. “He made big shots and he’ll continue to make big shots. This is just one that he missed.”
Forte made six free throws in the final 36 seconds and was 8-of-8 overall, helping make up for his 1-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. Oklahoma State finished just 4-of-24 from deep, including 0-of-4 by Smart and 1-of-7 by Markel Brown, who made his 15 points loud nonetheless thanks to several dunks.
Huggins said West Virginia tried to play physical against Smart “because he creates a lot of contact.” The future lottery pick certainly was marginalized, coming nowhere near the 22-point, 13-rebound effort he delivered at the WVU Coliseum.
Said Harris: “He’s supposed to be this big thing, but he’s a human being just like me, so whatever.”
Cowboys coach Travis Ford suggested game film would tell an accurate story on the calls and defense that limited Smart: “I think he did get a little frustrated, and I’m anxious to see if it was justified.”
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Along with Forte’s 13 points, Stevie Clark and Brian Williams scored 10 each, combining for 8-of-12 shooting.
“Stevie came in and just played his tail off,” Brown said. “He’s getting great within this Big 12 run and we’re going to need that. He’s going up against Marcus (Smart) every day in practice, so what better player do you want to go up against?”
Markel Brown grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, including a putback dunk before the half, yet Oklahoma State was outboarded 41-36.
WVU’s Williams struggled with 2-of-9 shooting from in close, but claimed nine rebounds, while Harris and Adrian grabbed six each.
The confident Terry Henderson who scored a career-high 28 against Texas Tech earlier this week? He shot 1-of-10 from the floor and 0-of-5 from 3-point range Saturday, though he made 6-of-8 free throws to finish with eight points.