Go ahead, take the Oklahoma State Cowboys off the bubble.
OSU is playing like its old self and its 77-61 victory against Kansas State on Monday night in Gallagher-Iba Arena may have solidified a NCAA tournament berth.
The Cowboys (20-10, 8-9 Big 12) have won four straight following a seven-game losing streak.
“We need to continue to play well,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “Our motivation is to make the NCAA tournament, so we can't exhale now.”
Phil Forte was the lead man for the Cowboys. He scored only two points two nights prior against Kansas, but bounced back in a big way. Forte scored 23 points on Monday night, including going 6-of-11 from 3.
“It’s big-time when Phil makes shots out there,” OSU guard Markel Brown said. “It takes a lot of pressure off me, Marcus, Le’Bryan, Kamari. Once he gets going, it’s hard to stop him.”
Forte’s confidence never wavered despite his lackluster performance on Saturday.
“This is how it goes sometimes,” Forte said. “As a shooter you just have to be ready because you never know when you have to knock them down and that just happened to be one of those games.
“My teammates, especially (Marcus and Markel) did a great job of finding me in space. They create and get me wide-open shots, and I was able to knock them down today."
Marcus Smart once again followed up a slow first half with a strong second half. Smart scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. He also had six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“What I loved about tonight and the Kansas game, is when he was struggling offensively, he was still getting after it on the defensive end,” Ford said. “That's where we need to be."
Brown and Smart, the Cowboys’ primary ballhandlers, combined for 10 assists and only five turnovers. Le’Bryan Nash had two assists of his own. Brown said OSU spreading the ball around better has correlated with the winning streak.
“Now we sharing the ball on offense, making each other look good,” Brown said. “Doing a good job of spreading the butter.”
Smart and Brown, a senior, checked out of the game separately at the 1:32 mark in the second half. Each received a standing ovation from the 10,969 in attendance and a hug from Ford.
Brown scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds in his final game at GIA. Smart was also a part of Senior Night as he figures to go to the NBA after the season.
"It was very emotional, I'm sure it's going to hit me harder a week from now,” Brown said. “I thought about it a lot, it's going to be my last game ever at Gallagher-Iba and it's heart-breaking because I've had a lot of fun during my four years here.
“Playing with teammates that grew into brothers and growing with them every day, I'm going to miss it."
Brown has been on the record as saying OSU beating KU on Saturday locks it into the NCAA tournament, but after the KSU win, he had a different message.
“I’m not satisfied,” Brown said. “You never know with the bubble thing.
“I just want to keep winning.”