MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OSU

February 4, 2014

COLUMN: Slumping Cowboys in need of a ‘Smart’ culture change

Oklahoma State and Travis Ford find themselves in situation many — both fans and experts, alike — never truly saw coming at the beginning of the season.

First came the season-ending injury to forward Michael Cobbins that has led the Cowboys in a gradual spiral downward in post play. Then Sunday, brought a monsoon of a media storm thanks to troubled freshman point guard Stevie Clark.

If all the player turmoil wasn’t enough, the Cowboys are riding a three-game losing streak — their first of the season — and have lost four of their last five. OSU stands 4-5 in the Big 12 Conference, which puts them in the bottom four of the league standings, and one step closer to pushing the panic button.

“It’s been frustrating, coming off the Baylor loss and losing Stevie, one of our key teammates and one of my good friends,” Le’Bryan Nash said following Monday’s triple overtime loss to Iowa State. “It’s hard, but we have to fight through it.”

In all likelihood, Oklahoma State will need to win five of its last nine conference games — to finish at .500 in league play — to make a good case for the postseason.

In order for that to happen, things need to change for Oklahoma State. And it starts with its best player.

Prior to the Baylor game, Marcus Smart made a comment that he believed he was failing the team as a leader. There’s only some validity to that statement

The problem is, he doesn’t quite understand what a leader truly is. A leader doesn’t have to go out and score 30 points a night. A leader makes the players around him better, and the last five games he has not done that.

In Monday’s triple-overtime loss to Iowa State, Smart — the starting point guard for the Cowboys — had just three assists in 52 minutes, with just one in the second half and the three overtimes. That’s one assist every 17 minutes on the floor, from your point guard.

In fact, Nash had more assists (5) in fewer minutes (50) than Smart. For Iowa State, three different players — including one forward — had more assists than Smart.

While Smart did shoot better in Monday’s loss than he has of late, going 6 for 14, he still continues to shoot too much from outside — making 1 of 5 from 3-point range — instead of attacking the rim.

In order for Oklahoma State to get back and track and avoid missing the NCAA tournament, the Cowboys need Smart to return to his old self — where he involved his teammates in the offense and was able to feed off of the other talented players around him.

If not, his return to Stillwater for his sophomore season may not have only been a disappointment for Oklahoma State, but also for his NBA draft stock.

Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at jelmquist@stwnewspress.com.

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