Forgotten Sophomore Marcus Smart Reminds Everyone He’s Still AroundPosted by Eli Linton on November 20th, 2013
Eli Linton is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Oklahoma State and Memphis in Stillwater.
After what we have seen on display early this season from an outstanding freshman class led by Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart went into Gallagher-Iba Arena on Tuesday night as the forgotten sophomore, but he left as arguably the best and most complete player in the nation. No.7 Oklahoma State sent a message to the rest of the college basketball world, dismantling No.11 Memphis, 101-80, behind a first half explosion from Smart, who turned in the best performance of the season so far. The game that was supposed to be a showdown between two very talented backcourts ended up instead as a showcase of Smart as a superstar talent, and left everyone wondering just how far this Oklahoma State team can go this season.
In just 16 first half minutes, Smart unleashed 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Memphis, by comparison, scored 32 points in the entire half and went 11-of-31 from the field. The greatest stretch of dominance from Smart happened during a two-minute window in the first half, when he scored 12 points on four straight possessions. He finished with a career-high 39 points, five steals, four rebounds, and four assists. “When he scores like that, he could be the best player in college basketball,” said Memphis coach Josh Pastner after the loss. “There is a reason why he was a first-team All-American. Tonight he was tremendous.”
The freshman class headlined by Wiggins, Parker and Randle has received well-deserved attention, but Marcus Smart reminded America why he should be in the same conversation when it comes to the group of best college players in the nation. Smart had an unbelievable scoring night, but he does so much more for Oklahoma State that gets overlooked by the boxscore. He can play three positions, including small forward; he can run the offense as point guard and a distributor; he can rebound, he can defend in the post and he can lock down the perimeter. His versatility is what makes him virtually unstoppable. You can shut down one aspect of his game, but you can’t stop him from making things happen in other ways. In our world of one-and-done college stars, Smart was questioned for his decision to return for a sophomore year in Stillwater, but after Tuesday’s performance exhibiting the next level that he has reached, it is hard to argue with his decision.
A lot of people will say this was just another example of Memphis underperforming in big games, now 0-13 against ranked opponents under Pastner, but this was much more than that. Memphis has a good basketball team, good enough to be ranked in the top-15 of the national polls, and they were simply overwhelmed in Stillwater. Much of it had to do with Smart’s amazing night, but what the country saw on Tuesday was just one of the many ways Oklahoma State can win games. The Cowboys’ swarming defense against Tigers created fast break opportunities and their transition offense was precise. The whole team crashed the boards on every possession, and they were aggressive in attacking the rim. They scored 101 points against another supposed contender, and that was without any contribution from their leading scorer Phil Forte.
Marcus Smart had a great night scoring, but he doesn’t have to do that every night with the talent he has around him. Most evenings he can work hard on defense and remain productive as a facilitator. Still, some people are overlooking Oklahoma State, and it’s a mistake even if head coach Travis Ford insists that this victory means nothing more than win number four. “It’s very much a business approach,” said Ford after the win. “There wasn’t a lot of chatter [before the game]. Everyone was listening, all eyes were on me. And when it was time to go play, we played. It’s one game. For me it’s the fourth game of the year.” Ford may downplay this victory, but this win is something that will resonate down the road when the doors close on the selection committee. “Everybody was watching,” said Smart, “and now everyone knows what Oklahoma State can do.”
Indeed they do, as the forgotten man has been remembered.