Oklahoma State has its own version of the Texas two-step that opposing coaches hope to avoid at all costs.
Known otherwise by their stage names—Marcus Smart and Le’Bryan Nash —the two fellow Texans just so happen to comprise the most fearsome one-two punch in the Big 12. N.C. State learned first-hand on Sunday.
Thanks to Smart’s sensational all-around performance, Nash’s perfect day at the line and freshman Phil Forte’s hot perimeter shooting, the undermanned and inexperienced Cowboys eviscerated the Wolfpack 76-56 in the finals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. So much for N.C. State’s edge in depth and experience.
Smart helped Oklahoma State build an early double-digit lead, flashing the full complement of skills that made him one of the nation’s most coveted hoops recruits. His stifling defense, which earned him quite the reputation in high school, was in full display on Sunday night, when the freshman guard flustered Lorenzo Brown, a preseason All-ACC first teamer
A budding future lottery pick, be it in one or two years, Smart finished with 20 points (8-15 FG), seven rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and four steals. But even bare, statistical evidence of his virtuous performance doesn’t do justice to just how gifted he is.
Nash helped seal the game in the second half, knocking down all of his 13 free throws and tightening up on the glass, while freshman sniper Phil Forte, a high school teammate of Smart’s at Marcus High School, ensured the final score was reflective of the laugher the game became. In a game that made it easy forget about Keiton Page, Oklahoma State’s all-time 3-point leader, Forte buried four 3-pointers and notched 17 points off the bench.
Between Smart, Nash and Forte, the Cowboys had all the scoring they needed on Sunday night. And with similar performances from the three underclassmen down the line, Travis Ford should have a three-headed monster at least capable of winning a Big 12 championship.
When Oklahoma State lost Page to graduation and high-upside, sophomore swingman Brian Williams to a season-ending wrist injury in October, the future of the Cowboys backcourt appeared bleak. The outbound transfers of three more guards—most notably Cezar Guerrero to Fresno State—within the last calendar further compounded Coach Ford’s flexibility.
You wouldn’t know by the way his team has played thus far.
Kansas is a deserving Big 12 preseason favorite and Baylor may have the most upside of any team in the league, but don’t sleep on Oklahoma State. They may be young and thin, but the Cowboys own a trump card not even Rick Barnes at Texas or Scott Drew at Baylor could rival:
They have the league’s best Texas two-step. And that alone makes them for real.