KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Phil Forte stepped to the foul line and Marcus Smart couldn’t bear to watch, so with 2.9 seconds left on the clock in a tie game, Oklahoma State’s star freshman turned around.
Lined up along the lane, Smart simply turned around.
He only knew that Forte’s foul shot had been made by the roar of the crowd.
Forte added the second of his two free throws a moment later, allowing No. 14 Oklahoma State to survive after blowing a 20-point lead for a 74-72 victory over Pierre Jackson and pesky Baylor in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament Thursday night.
“In close games like that, he’s at the free-throw line, it’s a tradition I do,” Smart said of the decisive free throw. “Turn around, relieve some of the pressure off him, having to look his teammate in the eyes, and he hit a big-time shot at a big moment.”
Jackson got a good look at a potential winning 3-pointer after Forte’s two free throws, racing up the sideline opposite the benches. He pulled up from the wing and let go a shot that clanked off the back iron as the backboard lit up to signal the end of the game.
Exhausted by the comeback, Jackson collapsed face-down to the floor of the Sprint Center.
“I definitely thought it went in,” said Jackson, who had 24 of his 31 points while trying to rally his team in the second half. “Those are the kinds of moments you live for, being able to take the last shot and help your team out, and I wasn’t able to hit it.”
Smart finished with 21 points, and Forte and LeBryan Nash each added 14 for the Cowboys (24-7), who will play No. 11 Kansas State in the semifinals tonight.
It’ll be a rematch of a game won by the Cowboys last Saturday.
“We know they’re a good team,” Nash said, “and it’ll be a good battle. We have to come out stronger than we did tonight.”
A.J. Walton had 13 points and Cory Jefferson had 10 for Baylor (18-14), which is now left wondering whether it somehow did enough to squeak into the NCAA tournament.
“I feel like we can beat anybody in the country,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “If the committee sees us worthy, we would definitely be excited. That’s an understatement.”
Baylor won the first meeting with Oklahoma State in January, and Markel Brown’s lay-in with less than a second left gave the Cowboys an overtime victory in February in Stillwater, Okla.
The rubber game wasn’t much of a game at all in the first half.
Oklahoma State crept out to a 13-8 lead in the opening minutes, and then went on a 15-3 run to take control. Just about everybody got into the act — Brown hit a 3-pointer, Brian Williams had his only bucket of the half, and Forte poured in a 3 of his own from the wing.
Three times during the run, Baylor coach Scott Drew called a timeout trying to stop it, and the Cowboys coasted into the locker room with a 42-24 halftime lead.
Jackson, the Big 12’s top scorer, was just 2 of 11 from the field and 0 for 7 from beyond the arc in the first half, and the Bears missed all 13 of their 3-point tries.
Jackson finally hit Baylor’s first 3 immediately out of the break, and the Bears started to cut into what had been a 20-point deficit. Jackson’s driving layup and free throw to convert a three-point play got them within 47-39 with 12:38 left in the game.
The teams started trading blows — quite literally — down the stretch, and a parade of free throws ensued. At one point, the Bears went to the line on three straight offensive possessions, and the teams combined to shoot 62 foul shots in the game.
“We’ve been in that spot before,” Jackson said. “We knew what the situation was, so we just tried to stay positive as always, and execute on offense and defense.”
Jackson’s 3-pointer with 38.5 seconds left got Baylor within 68-67, and Forte — a 91-percent foul shooter — answered with two foul shots for the Cowboys. Jackson was fouled at the other end but could only make the first of two free throws for Oklahoma State.
Baylor was forced to foul again, and this time it was Smart who converted two free throws.
Now trailing by four, the Bears came charging down the floor and got the ball to Gary Franklin in the corner in front of his bench. He let go of a 3-pointer and was fouled by Forte, and the ball splashed through the net to a roar from the dwindling crowd.
Franklin’s free throw knotted the game with 19.1 seconds remaining.
“The second half, we couldn’t have been more proud of our team,” Drew said afterward. “To come from 18 down against a team like Oklahoma State shows a lot of heart.”
The Cowboys showed they had a little heart, too.
With time still on the clock, they managed to find Forte coming loose off a screen and get him the ball in the lane. He was fouled by the Bears’ Deuce Bello with 2.9 ticks on the clock, calmly stepped to the foul line and atoned for his foul at other end.
“I was shocked we were up as much as we were at halftime,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “I knew what Baylor had on the line. I knew what this game was going to be about. I expected a hard-fought game and that’s what it ended up being, to say the least.”
Big 12 Conference Tournament
At Kansas City, Mo.
No. 14 Oklahoma State 74, Baylor 72
Heslip 0-6 0-0 0, Austin 0-6 2-2 2, Walton 5-11 2-4 13, Jefferson 4-7 2-2 10, Jackson 8-21 13-14 31, Gathers 3-5 2-4 8, Franklin 2-3 2-3 8, Bello 0-0 0-0 0, Prince 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-60 23-29 72.
OKLAHOMA STATE (24-7)
Nash 6-15 2-4 14, Cobbins 4-6 2-3 10, Brown 3-7 4-6 11, Smart 4-12 11-14 21, Jurick 0-0 0-0 0, Gardner 0-1 0-0 0, Williams 1-1 0-0 2, Forte 3-5 6-6 14, Murphy 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 22-48 25-33 74.
Halftime—Oklahoma St. 42, Baylor 24. Three-point goals—Baylor 5-23 (Franklin 2-3, Jackson 2-11, Walton 1-3, Jefferson 0-1, Heslip 0-5); Oklahoma St. 5-13 (Forte 2-3, Smart 2-6, Brown 1-4). Rebounds—Baylor 36 (Gathers 12), Oklahoma St. 32 (Cobbins 8). Assists—Baylor 6 (Jackson 3), Oklahoma St. 8 (Brown 3). Total Fouls—Baylor 23, Oklahoma St. 21. Fouled out—None. A—17,257.