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Cowboys Roll In Smart's Return

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STILLWATER, Oklahoma -

 That's one way to end a losing streak.

Oklahoma State put one in the win column for the first time since Jan. 5 with a resounding 84-62 beat down of Texas Tech in Gallagher-Iba Arena. The victory ended a seven-game slide for the Pokes, which had matched its worst losing streak since 1973.

And the difference in this team was obvious – Marcus Smart.

Basketball is a team game but, as Tech coach Tubby Smith said afterward, "whenever you have a player of Marcus Smart's caliber, it takes you to another level."

That was an accurate analysis of Smart's impact on the Cowboys on Saturday in his first game back after serving a three-game ban for his incident with a Tech fan on Feb. 8.

OSU had played well in its past two outings but couldn't get over the hump against OU or in overtime at Baylor. But with Smart back in the fold, things just worked.

Smart was dominant with a well-rounded 16-point, 10-assist, six-steal and two-block performance. It was the exact type of stat line that endeared him to the nation as a freshman and set him up as a preseason first-team All-American.

It was the very best version of Smart. And, as a result, fans were treated to the very best version of the Cowboys.

OSU (17-10, 5-9 Big 12) looked like it was expected to all season: the Pokes running the floor, finishing with authority, smothering the Raiders on defense and cruising past a solid Tech squad that was coming off a one-point loss to No. 8 Kansas.

"We played well and we played together," OSU coach Travis Ford said. "…from the 20 assists, to playing terrific team defense with a lot of deflections and steals. They were things we are capable of doing. It was fun to see them playing hard and together. We saw a few guys smiling out there, which we hadn't seen in a while. It was a different feel."

And it was Smart who sparked the fire.

"I thought he was terrific. Absolutely terrific," Ford said. "You look at the stat sheet, and that says enough, but that's what we expect him to be — a stat-sheet stuffer — a guy who can fill it up in the rebound column, the points column, the steals column and the assist column … that's the kind of performance we need. That's what we've been looking for."

The positive energy translated into a dominant team performance, as the Cowboys fed off one another and moved the ball far more efficiently than they have in the past month and change.

Le'Bryan Nash scored 21 points, Phil Forte added 20, Markel Brown has 11 and Kamari Murphy chipped in 10, as all five Cowboy starters reached double figures. OSU shot 56.9 percent from the floor as a team, thanks largely to 20 assists on 29 made baskets. The Cowboys also forced 15 turnovers, which led to a 23-4 edge in fast break points and a 21-6 margin in points off turnovers.

Jordan Tolbert scored 15 points and Robert Turner added 10 for Texas Tech (13-14, 5-9).

The game was back-and-forth for the first half and appeared to be on the path to a five-point Cowboy lead at the break but Smart finished with a flurry that gave OSU a massive momentum boost heading into the locker room.

With 10 seconds remaining in the half, Smart barreled his way into the lane and drilled a floater amidst three Raider defenders to put OSU up seven. Then he proceeded to steal the ensuing inbounds pass and connected on a tough fade away jumper as time ran out in the half.

Tech tried to make it interesting in the opening moments of the second half, closing within five on three occasions, but Smart again assisted in keeping the Raiders at bay – literally.

Smart fed a beautiful pass to Nash for a one-handed tomahawk and a quick steal by Smart translated almost immediately into an assist to Murphy for an authoritative two-hand slam that put the Cowboys back up nine.

OSU never looked back, leading by as much as 24 before Ford subbed out the starters to a standing ovation, allowing the Cowboys a sigh of relief after a brutal stretch.

"It feels really good," Nash said. "We can start a winning streak instead of that losing streak. It feels good seeing everyone in a good mood in the locker room right now. We have to just keep moving right now and keep pushing."

The Cowboys will aim for a second-straight victory when they take on TCU at 6 p.m. on Monday in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs are 0-14 in Big 12 play.

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