Marcus Smart's senseless decision to go after a fan at Texas Tech last month wasn't the only reason Oklahoma State found itself in danger of missing the NCAA tournament, but after returning from a three-game suspension Smart knew he'd have to do something special to avoid it being remembered that way.
He came through with something special Saturday night against No. 5 Kansas.
Smart scored 20 of his 21 points in the second half to lead the Cowboys to a come-from-behind 72-65 win over the Jayhawks. Oklahoma State has now won three straight since Smart returned to the lineup. It had lost seven consecutive games, four with him and three without him.
The victory over Kansas might be enough to get the Cowboys back in the tournament with an at-large berth. It is certainly enough to get them back in the conversation among members of the selection committee. Smart and his teammates will need to play well in the final two regular season games against Kansas State and at Iowa State as well as the Big 12 Conference tournament, but they seem to have found whatever was missing during their rough patch.
Smart and Markel Brown each scored 21 points to lead the Cowboys, who trailed by 10 points with a little more than 10 minutes remaining. Smart scored 12 of his team's final 23 points and had assists on two of the baskets he didn't score.
In the three games since his return, Smart has averaged 18 points, 5.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists and five steals, looking every bit like the potential All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year many thought he could be this season.
Oklahoma State isn't completely out of danger yet, but with Smart refocused and playing some of his best basketball of the season, it has to feel good about its chances. Continuing to win games in the toughest conference in the nation both in the final week of the regular season and the Big 12 tournament will only bolster that feeling.
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