MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

November 21, 2013

OSU’s Smart adds to his tools


Associated Press

— STILLWATER  — When Marcus Smart explained his decision to bypass the NBA draft last spring, his primary talking point was about making amends for Oklahoma State’s early exit from last season’s NCAA tournament.

It turns out the decision wasn’t purely selfless.

While Smart wanted desperately to help the No. 7 Cowboys atone for that loss to Oregon, he was also focused on improving his own game — specifically, his outside shooting.

The results of that offseason of hard work were on full display for the entire country Tuesday night, with the preseason All-American scoring a career-high 39 points in leading Oklahoma State (4-0) to a 101-80 dismantling of No. 11 Memphis. The lightning-quick Smart — known primarily as a penetrator last season — set another career best in the win, hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers and igniting the Gallagher-Iba Arena crowd with his all-around effort.

“I knew it would happen eventually,” Oklahoma State junior Brian Williams said. “He had a couple of good games, but we knew a breakout game was coming soon, and he had one (Tuesday). He shot the ball with confidence, and he found us when he could.”

Smart had no problems with his quantity of shots as a freshman last season, but his quality was lacking at times.

The 6-foot-4 guard shot just 40.4 percent from the field on his way to being named the national Freshman of the Year, a number that dipped to 29 percent on 3-pointers.  After Tuesday’s performance, he’s shooting 45.1 percent (23 of 51) overall this season and 38.5 percent (10 of 26) on 3-pointers.

“That’s one of the reasons I stayed was to keep going and work on my game from the arc, increase my shooting percentage so guys play me honest,” Smart said. “They have to respect my jump shot and my drive, so it will make it easier for me to get into the lane a lot more and find my teammates.”

Smart’s new-found prowess from behind the 3-point line was at its best early in the first half when he scored 24 of the Cowboys’ first 29 points — including 12 straight points at one point on three 3-pointers and a trio of free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.

The fun didn’t stop in the second half after Oklahoma State went up by as many as 34 points.

After his final 3-pointer of night, a shot that came in transition and put the Cowboys up 64-43, Smart glanced in the direction of the courtside seats. He was looking for Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, who was in attendance.

“I just wanted to see if he was enjoying the show,” Smart said.

The show wasn’t simply about Smart’s scoring, either. He added five steals, four rebounds, four assists and a pair of blocks in the performance — keeping his teammates involved and not trying to do more than Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford wanted.

“You trust a guy like Marcus to know, ‘When do I need to shoot them, when do I not need to shoot them?”’ Ford said. “’When do I need to do something else?’ That’s the great thing about Marcus. Marcus can give you whatever you need.”

Smart now leads the Cowboys with an average of 20 points per game, but he entered Tuesday third on the team at only 13.7 per game — behind sixth-man Phil Forte and guard Markel Brown.

Much of Smart’s lack of early productivity was a result of less-than stellar competition, with Oklahoma State winning each of its first three games by more than 50 points. He started the season with 11 points against Mississippi Valley State in 19 minutes, following that up with 14 points in 25 minutes against Utah Valley. Smart had 16 points against Arkansas-Pine Bluff — hardly a harbinger of what was to come against the Tigers.

Ford said he expects Smart to play with the same intensity he did against Memphis, regardless of the quality of the opposing team.

That doesn’t bode well for Oklahoma State’s future opponents. Neither does his improved shooting.

“He’s been doing that all offseason, all summer,” Williams said. “We just haven’t seen it during the first couple of games, and it came out (Tuesday).”