Marcus Smart (USATSI)
The sophomore guard sent that message during Tuesday's 101-80 rout of Memphis with a performance so brilliant it had to be seen to be believed.
Previously best-known for his defense, leadership and all-around game, Smart showcased a more assertive approach on offense in rolling up a career high 39 points on 11-for-21 shooting against the 11th-ranked Tigers. He scored off the dribble, from the post and at the free throw line, but the most striking aspect of his night was the way he dispelled the notion that defenders can play him to drive and not worry about his jump shot.
A 29 percent 3-point shooter as a freshman, Smart sank 5 of 10 shots he attempted from behind the arc Tuesday night. The fourth of those threes was a top-of-the-key 25-footer that capped an opening 11 minutes in which Smart tallied 24 of his team's 29 points and outscored Memphis by four by himself.
One torrid night won't change scouting reports, but the confidence in which Smart pulled up in transition with no hesitation suggests his improved outside shooting is no fluke. If so, that's a scary thought for opposing defenders because Smart's combination of strength and quickness already made it difficult to keep from getting to the rim or the foul line even when teams played him to drive.
If Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle have hogged the national spotlight during the opening two weeks of the season, Smart's dominance served as a reminder that he should not be overshadowed. He is just as strong an early candidate for national player of the year as any of the freshmen.
Smart's huge scoring night would be a bit less impressive if the other areas of his game suffered, but he still turned in just as complete a performance as you'd expect. He choked off the passing lanes for five steals, he blocked two shots, he skidded across the floor diving for loose balls and he played such relentless defense against Joe Jackson that Memphis' leading scorer managed only six shots.
The matchup between Memphis and Oklahoma State was billed as a litmus test for both programs and a battle of two of the nation's top backcourts. What the outcome suggested in hindsight is Memphis' backcourt is still a work in progress and Oklahoma State's is as formidable as advertised.
The foursome of Jackson, Geron Johnson, Michael Dixon and Chris Crawford turned the ball over 10 times and shot a combined 8 for 34 from the field. In fact, the highest scoring Memphis guard was little-known Damien Wilson, who had eight points off the bench.
By contrast, Oklahoma State's backcourt flourished even though sweet-shooting reserve Phil Forte played only a few minutes because of food poisoning. Markel Brown had a quiet 20 points in support of Smart and promising freshman Stevie Clark had nine.
Still the star was Smart, who during the preseason chafed a bit at all the attention lavished on Wiggins and the other top freshmen.
In his first game on a national stage this season, Smart reminded everyone why he ought to be sharing that spotlight too.
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