STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Marcus Smart and Phil Forte gave the home fans a memorable final look at a special connection.
The childhood and high school teammates combined for 31 points in the second half to help Oklahoma State pull away for a 77-61 win over Kansas State on Monday night. The sophomore duo, which won two state championships at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas, played their last home game together because Smart will declare early for the NBA Draft.
“It was amazing playing in front of this crowd,” Smart said. “I got to play with some wonderful guys. I’ve been playing with Phil since I was in third grade and I got to play with him throughout my college career.”
Forte matched a season-high with 23 points and Smart added 18. Markel Brown added 15 for the Cowboys (20-10, 8-9 Big 12), who followed their victory over then-No. 5 Kansas by winning their fourth-straight. Brown, a senior, also played his final home game at OSU.
Smart was strong in the second half for the third straight game, scoring 16 points after halftime before checking out with 1:32 remaining.
In the first halves of the past three games, Smart has shot a combined 2 for 18 from the field and scored five points. In the second halves of those games, he has made 14 of 21 and scored 51 points.
“I try to make teams play me (early) and open it up for my teammates,” he said. “If they focus on me, my teammates lift me up and they pick up my slack. In the second half, it just opens things up for me and I’m able to get in the lane and it opens up shots for me.”
The Cowboys endured a seven-game losing skid before the current win streak. Oklahoma State is unbeaten since Smart returned from a three-game suspension for shoving a Texas Tech fan. The win helps the Cowboys in their quest to make the NCAA tournament.
“We need to continue to play well,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “Our motivation is to make the NCAA tournament, so we can’t exhale now. I think we’re in good shape. If you blindly put any resume against ours, I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Thomas Gipson had 10 points and 13 rebounds and Wesley Iwundu added 10 points and 10 rebounds for Kansas State (20-10, 10-7), which had won three of four and was coming off a home win over Iowa State. Marcus Foster, who entered the game as the team leader with 15 points per game, scored nine on 4-for-16 shooting while being hounded by Smart.
Smart’s first basket came with just under eight minutes left in the first half.
Oklahoma State rallied from a 22-15 deficit to take a 23-22 lead. A dunk by Le’Bryan Nash and a layup by Brown gave the Cowboys a 27-23 lead.
Oklahoma State led 35-27 at halftime after holding Kansas State to two field goals in the final 10 minutes of the half. Brown scored 12 points before the break. The Cowboys outscored the Wildcats 15-3 from the free throw line in the first 20 minutes.
Kansas State opened the second half on a 5-0 run to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 35-32, but back-to-back steals and layups by Smart and Forte pushed Oklahoma State’s lead to eight.
“In the second half, we decided to turn up our defense,” Smart said. “The first half was OK, but they got some open shots and some easy plays. So, we just tried to come back, pressure them and it caught them. Then Phil got them with another steal and took it coast-to-coast and the team fed off it.”
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said once the Cowboys increased the intensity, it was too much for his squad.
“I’m not sure they played real hard early, but then when they turned it up, that was probably the difference in the game,” he said. “I didn’t think we fought them enough.”
Smart found Brian Williams for a dunk, then Forte for a 3-pointer to increase the Cowboys’ advantage to 50-39 with just under 12 minutes remaining. Smart’s 3-pointer with about eight minutes remaining gave Oklahoma State a 57-46 edge.
Smart committed his fourth foul with 5:38 remaining, but the Cowboys went on a 7-1 run after he went to the bench to put the game out of reach.
“We played against a great K-State team tonight, and when I was out, for this team to be able to go on that stretch run was incredible because it shows the determination and fight that they have,” Smart said.
Now, the Cowboys’ confidence has returned to where it was when they were ranked in the Top 10 earlier in the season.
“If we continue to compete, we can beat anyone in the nation,” Brown said.