The Cowboys did not start the game they way you would have imagined. They were only up 8-6 at the 14:38 mark of the first half, and their All-American, Marcus Smart, only had two points on 0-for-4 from the field, with a turnover and zero assists. From that point forward you could see a difference in the way Smart and the Cowboys played. They picked up the pace, and this seemed to awaken Smart. From the 14:38 mark until the end of the half Smart scored 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting and the Cowboys held a 52-29 halftime lead. Smart is starting to make a habit of single-handedly putting away teams
Smart has now put away Memphis, South Florida and Purdue in succession with 20-plus points in the first half of each game. When you look at Smart, the first thing you notice his how big he is. He looks physically imposing, like a power forward trapped in a point guard’s body. Smart starts games so hot because teams underestimate his size. He is able to bully by players, get to the rim or get fouled. Once teams take a step back to adjust for his size and strength, Smart raises up for seemingly uncontested jumpers.
Smart has truly become a game-changing talent, the difference between the way Oklahoma State plays when he is on the court and when is is off the court is the most drastic of any player in the country. Purdue pulled within four with three minutes left, but the Boilermakers made their comeback on the back of a 25-12 run while Smart was on the bench. The Cowboys could not get any easy shots, get to the rim or even get to the foul line. Without Smart on the court, Purdue was able to get stops, which gave them confidence on the offensive end, and allowed them to get back in the game. Once Smart came back, the Cowboys outscored the Boilermakers 13-7 over the final three minutes.
Markel Brown did he best he could to hold off Purdue while Smart was on the bench — he had 25 points and six rebounds — but without the playmaking abilities of Smart, the Boilermakers limited everyone else, and let Brown get his points. One player cannot win a game, but when a player can takeover and get others involved like Smart can, it’s hard to not win. After another big win and big performance from Smart, the gap between him and whoever else is in contention for National Player of the Year is widening.
Even though the Boilermakers were able to cut the lead to single-digits, the huge cushion created by Marcus Smart’s first half proved to be the difference. With him coming out and punching teams in the mouth for 20-plus points in the first half, there is no chance of the Cowboys losing any time soon.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury.