March 22, 2013

Smart's last game of 2012-13 was just part of the pressure he's under

He came out with a few tons heaped on his shoulders.

The hope of every Oklahoma State fan was placed squarely on Marcus Smart them, while the eyes of a number of NBA scouts, GM's, and head coaches focused on the Big 12 Player of the Year as well.

He fought, he shot, he fell, and he sweated his butt off against those Oregon Ducks last night, but in the end he and his Cowboys were just short of what they had hoped to do.

He finished with 14 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and three turnovers, a long stat line that OSU fans are used to seeing from one of the nation's top freshman.

It also might've been his last.

The likely All-American is projected as a Top 5 pick in the NBA Draft, with teammate Markel Brown also projected to go in the first round, and the duo brushed off questions in their postgame press conference about whether they'll be staying at OSU for another year or taking their talents to the league.

Smart dominated the Big 12 this season, almost single-handedly winning at Allen Fieldhouse back in February with a late-game run performed all by his lonesome. He almost willed his team to a win over Gonzaga, who's a No. 1 seed in this year's tournament, back on New Years Eve before missing late free throws that would hand the Zags the victory in the end. He even racked up 99 steals, which is second-most in Big 12 history for any player (he previously broke former Kansas G Mario Chalmer's freshman steal record).

Yet last night, his enigmatic performance puzzled us all.

It won't hurt his draft stock, as he's put together a long enough resume to have an off game, but it was still confusing. "Big Game" Smart seemed nervy compared to his usual-icy demeanor, and it showed early and often. He shot an iffy 5/13, and suspect shot selection the stretch seemed to have a hand in solidifying the loss for the Cowboys.

But a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament and being a game short of bringing a Big 12 Championship back to Stillwater enough for him, and ultimately Brown, to return for another go-round?

Only time will tell, but if Smart is back then Brown will be too. They can join Nash, who isn't going anywhere, and try to become legends of Oklahoma State basketball and Gallagher-Iba Arena, leading a crusade to rescue the OSU basketball program that's so rich in history and yet has somehow lost its way.

Or they could head to the NBA, with no one blaming them to opt for the money because hey, they're two of the top players in their conference and even in the nation.

Just because the game is over and the Cowboys are back in Stillwater doesn't mean the pressure is off.

It's still on his shoulders until he heads to the NBA, whether it be this offseason or next, and none of us have any choice but to wait and see.

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