STILLWATER, Okla. — Coach Travis Ford can’t be certain whether NBA prospect Marcus Smart has played his last home game at Oklahoma State.
If he did, he went out with one of his typical beyond-the-box-score plays, changing the game and the Big 12 championship picture.
Smart scored 21 points, but perhaps none of his plays were as big as the charging foul he drew that turned the momentum as the 13th-ranked Cowboys beat No. 9 Kansas State 76-70 on Saturday.
After officials had stopped the game to review a Smart jump shot and rule that it was not a 3-pointer but a 2, he got between Angel Rodriguez and the sideline and drew the foul as Rodriguez tried to catch an inbound pass.
Smart ended up with six points — plus drawing Rodriguez’s foul — during the decisive 14-1 run for the Cowboys (23-7, 13-5 Big 12).
“The momentum changed for us, and we opened the game up,” Smart said.
Smart’s heady play came as no surprise to Ford, who has seen his freshman point guard develop into a Big 12 player of the year candidate without needing to be his team’s leading scorer.
“He is going to be in the middle of the action and more times than not, he’s going to make a positive play. ... That’s just his game,” Ford said. “That’s just his nature. That’s the way he plays.”
Le’Bryan Nash contributed 24 points and Markel Brown scored 16, including seven free throws in the final 2 minutes for Oklahoma State.
The Wildcats (25-6, 14-4) came into the day tied with rival Kansas for the conference lead, but were left needing the Jayhawks to lose on the road at Baylor later Saturday to come away with their first regular-season conference title since 1977 in the Big Eight.
K-State led by as much as nine in the second half and was up 61-57 following Rodney McGruder’s three-point play with 4:45 remaining. The Cowboys didn’t allow another field goal for over 4 minutes and hit 13 straight free throws to come away with the win.
It was 61-59 when Smart drew the charge, then got fouled by Thomas Gipson on a 3-point attempt and hit two free throws to tie it. Nash followed with a driving layup to put the Cowboys ahead to stay at 63-61 with 2:47 remaining.
Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber called Rodriguez’s charge the “big, changing play” of the game.
“I bet if you went and watched it, it wasn’t an offensive foul. So, that changed the game, the momentum a lot,” Weber said. “But then they made plays and we didn’t.”
McGruder led the Wildcats with 22 points. He had a big game when the teams met in the Big 12 opener, scoring 28 points and making all five of his 3-point attempts to lead K-State to a victory. He couldn’t match that this time, connecting on only six of his 15 shots.
Thomas Gipson chipped in 15 points and Angel Rodriguez scored 10, but struggled to a 3-for-16 outing.
“They’ve got some pretty good athletes that can guard and defend, and they made their focus — there’s no doubt — to make sure that Rod and Angel were jammed up as much as possible,” Weber said.
The Wildcats allowed Oklahoma State to shoot 57 percent while making just 39 percent of their own shots, but still managed to hang in until the final minutes for a chance to stretch their winning streak to seven and — more importantly — win an elusive conference title.
“We had an opportunity to be regular-season conference champs,” McGruder said, “and we let that opportunity slip.”
After McGruder’s three-point play and Rodriguez’s charge, Kansas State missed eight straight attempts. Smart said there had been some build-up to the call, with referees warning both Smart and Rodriguez to stop pushing off.
“At that moment in time, he gave me a little nudge that was enough for the referee to blow his whistle,” Smart said. “Actually, I wasn’t trying to fall. I actually slipped and it just looked like I fell, like I tried to make it a flop. But I actually slipped. It was a nudge but it wasn’t enough to make me fall.”
The Wildcats will be the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament. Oklahoma State will be the third seed and face Baylor in the opening round.
Shane Southwell and Martavious Irving hit 3-pointers to get the Wildcats going after trailing 36-30 at halftime, and soon they put together a 14-1 blitz to charge into the lead. Rodriguez had two baskets and two free throws during the run, and Nino Williams made a jumper along the left baseline to put K-State up 50-41 with 13:12 left.
The Cowboys responded by pushing the pace in transition, and Nash had a two-handed slam and a pair of layups during an 11-0 comeback. Smart’s three-point play off a driving runner along the right side of the lane put OSU back up 56-53 with 6:21 remaining — and fans chanted “One more year!” to the NBA prospect as he hit the free throw.
Smart said he has tried to block out that kind of chatter all year long.
“If I was them, I want him to come back. No question,” Ford said. “But I’ve seen him in a different perspective probably a little bit. I want what’s best for him. I’ve read, and everybody thinks he’s gone for sure. He might. I don’t know. It has not been discussed. I wouldn’t be surprised either way.”
Big 12 Conference
At Stillwater Okla.
No. 13 Oklahoma St. 76,
No. 9 Kansas St. 70
KANSAS ST. (25-6)
Henriquez 0-0 0-0 0, Southwell 3-8 0-0 7, Irving 2-5 2-2 8, Rodriguez 3-16 4-5 10, McGruder 6-15 7-8 22, Williams 1-4 0-2 2, Lawrence 0-0 0-0 0, Diaz 0-0 0-0 0, Gipson 7-10 1-2 15, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Spradling 2-3 0-1 6. Totals 24-61 14-20 70.
OKLAHOMA ST. (23-7)
Nash 10-12 4-5 24, Cobbins 4-7 1-2 9, Jurick 0-2 0-0 0, Brown 3-7 8-10 16, Smart 7-11 6-7 21, Gardner 0-0 0-0 0, Williams 1-3 0-2 2, Forte 0-2 4-4 4, Murphy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-44 23-30 76.
Halftime—Oklahoma St. 36-30. Three-point goals—Kansas St. 8-23 (McGruder 3-7, Spradling 2-3, Irving 2-5, Southwell 1-4, Rodriguez 0-4), Oklahoma St. 3-9 (Brown 2-4, Smart 1-2, Williams 0-1, Forte 0-2). Fouled out—Southwell, Williams. Rebounds—Kansas St. 29 (Gipson, Williams 6), Oklahoma St. 32 (Jurick 8). Assists—Kansas St. 14 (Rodriguez 6), Oklahoma St. 13 (Smart 6). Total fouls—Kansas St. 25, Oklahoma St. 17. A—13,611.