After a bit of a sloppy start in the team's first road game of the season, Oklahoma State used a late first half run to take a 51-35 lead into the lockerroom against the USF Bulls last night, setting them up for their fifth blowout win of the young season. The first half ended with Marcus Smart burying a 65-foot heave at the buzzer, capping off what had been a poor shooting start for him. The combination of Smart's interior attack and Markel Brown's barrage from three led the Cowboys throughout the night and the Pokes closed out an impressive 93-67 win on the road over a USF team that has some talent.
Freshman center John Egbunu was the headliner of Stan Heath's top recruiting class at USF and he showed some promise last night. Egbunu is probably the best rim protector that the Cowboys have played so far this season and he's also an athletic finisher. Bulls freshman point guard Anthony Collins found Egbunu for back-to-back dunks five minutes into the game by probing the backline of the defense and forcing OSU's rim protection to step towards them, freeing Egbunu for the dunk.
Egbunu's second dunk gave USF a 12-11 lead. After a media timeout, Oklahoma State came out and went on a 10-0 run with eight points coming from Brown (two threes and a lay-up). Travis Ford laid into his team about their defensive lapses and they responded by coming up and rotating much more crisply. Oklahoma State also used a 1-2-2 zone frequently in this game, and the Bulls had trouble getting great looks from inside the arc. USF instead settled for threes, just like Memphis did, and they were just 5-of-18 from deep.
The Pokes, on the other hand, shot 9-of-16 from three, continuing a very encouraging early trend of this team being a deadly shooting squad. I'm sure their current 47% clip from deep (5th in the country) will come down a bit throughout the year (right?), but if they can hit the three at an above 40% rate this season, it will be a massive turnaround from last season when everybody would collapse on Smart and OSU's spacing suffered. Smart seems even better than last season at packing defenses pay when they pack it in, either with the pass or his jumper, and the Pokes are running some really nice offense to get guys good looks.
Playing without Stevie Clark allowed Markel Brown to become the de facto point guard for stretches, and he was able to flash his ever improving skillset. Brown handled the ball a fair amount in this game and he looked comfortable finding his teammates (he has been really good at setting guys up in transition this season) and pulling up from behind the arc. A couple of times USF didn't show or fight over the screen to get a hand in Markel's face as he turned the corner, and he burned them by pulling up and nailing a three from deep.
Brown as a ball-handler seems like something that is here to stay, and when he has the option to come off of curl screens and pindowns as a shooter or a driver, Oklahoma State's offense is given yet another dimension. Travis Ford has no shortage of options with this team, and if he parses his minutes out to ensure that he has Smart or Brown on the floor at all times, the offense should be able to function and an efficient level throughout the game.
Brown finished with 25 (as did Smart) with five threes, eight rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and two steals (and no turnovers). Coach Ford said after the game that it was one of the more complete performances that he has seen and I would agree. I felt like Brown had his hand in every part of this game and his scoring during that post-timeout stretch in the first half really changed the tone of this game for the Cowboys. USF had just gotten their crowd into the game and this could have easily been a close game, but Brown's scoring spurt helped Oklahoma State establish a cushion that they would never relinquish.
With Brown displaying the ability to distribute the ball well this season, he's putting together some diverse performances that will certainly catch the eyes of NBA scouts as they watch Marcus. No longer is Brown going to be seen as an athletic player only, he's developed a lot of skills that can translate to the next level. If his shooting off the dribble and passing continue to shine through this season, he'll earn himself a shot in the NBA next season.
Smart, who was dealing with a migraine all day, had a pretty good game as well. He struggled from three (but was pretty good from four). He added 25 points, four assists and four steals and really attacked the rim all game long. He shot 11 free throws in this game after getting to the line 16 times against Memphis and 14 times against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and finished a number of crazy shot attempts at the rim. I said this during the game, but Smart has a very Harden-esque quality of maneuvering his way into the paint and being able to finish any shot at the rim no matter what kind of funky release he tries.
This game showcased what will be the blueprint for OSU to win big in games going forward. They got big scoring performances from Smart and Brown (and I never felt like they were gunning for their own shots, either), LeBryan Nash got involved with a few impressive finishes around the rim late out of post-ups, Brian Williams provided his usual tenacity on the defensive end of the floor as well as a few really athletic finishes at the rim and Phil Forte, now the team's third leading scorer, hit three threes off the bench. If OSU can get four of these things to happen on a given night, or even three depending on the opponent, we'll likely be seeing Christien Sager at the end of the game.