In the quarterfinals of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando on Thanksgiving, No. 5 Oklahoma State had to learn how to hold on to a lead with Marcus Smart in foul trouble. The Cowboys did just that, beating Purdue 97-87. In Friday's nail-biting semifinal win over unranked Butler, OSU had to find a way with its star playing his worst game of the season. Both experiences could end up paying huge dividends for a team with national championship aspirations.
Smart scored just 17 points, going 8-for-15 from the floor, in the 69-67 victory. He had two opportunities at the free throw line to grow a one-point lead with less than a minute left, but missed all three of his attempts, including the front end of a one-and-one with 20.4 seconds remaining. After that miss, the Bulldogs' Khyle Marshall drew a foul with 8.5 seconds to go and had a chance to put Butler ahead but clanked both attempts badly off the rim. Oklahoma State's Le'Bryan Nash made one free throw and teammate Michael Cobbins blocked a three-point shot by Elijah Brown to secure the win.
The Cowboys came in to Friday's game averaging 99.7 points per game, the second most in the country, and had yet to score fewer than 93 points in a single game. While they shot exactly 50 percent from the floor, they went just 4-for-15 from behind the arc and 7-for-12 from the line. Smart, who entered the day averaging 27.5 points per game, and Markel Brown (23 ppg coming in), combined for just 26 points on 11-of-23 shooting, including 1-of-6 on threes. Just like Thursday's victory against the Boilermakers, the win against Butler provided a valuable lesson for Oklahoma State. It will undoubtedly have to win a big game at some point this year getting less-than-usual production from Smart and Brown. At that point, coach Travis Ford will probably be thankful for Friday's experience.
Meanwhile, Butler missed its first chance to pull off the kind of major upset victory that it had become known for under previous head coach Brad Stevens. The Bulldogs cut a 14-point halftime deficit to three in the first seven minutes of the second half, and after falling behind again by nine with under four minutes left, went on an 8-0 run to get within one with two minutes left. Butler didn't score again, missing all five of its shots form the field and both of its free throw attempts
This could have been a watershed moment in the early stages of the Brandon Miller regime, a sign that the Bulldogs, who vaulted into the national consciousness under Stevens, are still here even though their coach left for the Celtics. Still, hanging with a national power while shooting just 39.7 percent from the floor and holding the Smart-Brown duo in check should give Miller's bunch something to build on when it heads north from Orlando. Brown led Butler with 15 points, while Kameron Woods had 12 points and nine rebounds and Alex Barlow added 12 points of his own. Oklahoma State will face the Memphis-LSU winner in the tournament championship on Sunday, while Butler will face the loser in the third-place game. Should Memphis win, it would get a shot at redemption after the Cowboys, led by 39 points from Smart and 20 from Brown, ran it out of Stillwater less than two weeks ago.