If Marcus Smart has indeed played his final game for Oklahoma State, he won't look back on his finale fondly, as Gonzaga knocked the Cowboys out of the NCAA tournament, winning 85-77.
Smart's final line will certainly look impressive enough, as he finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and six steals. Once again, he was the star of the show for Oklahoma State, and its hard to imagine him doing much else for the team.
But his evening was far from perfect. Consider that he didn't hit his first bucket of the second half until there were only six minutes, 22 seconds left. Or that he went just 12-of-19 from the charity stripe, 5-of-14 from the field and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. Or that he didn't exactly make many friends with his theatrics on the court.
Basketball guru Ken Pomeroy certainly noticed it:
All of Marcus Smart’s theatrics coming back to hurt him today.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) March 21, 2014
So too did ESPN's Ryen Russillo:
Marcus Smart doing dumb M Smart things again. The call he tried to get on that jumper, pushes guy, argues. Touched ball on shot clock.— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) March 21, 2014
Still, we shouldn't pile onto Smart too much. After all, he often was playing down on the block and doing battle with Gonzaga's big men, performing admirably when asked to do so. And his own coach, Travis Ford, was given a technical at the end of the first half for presumably protesting a lack of calls he felt should have gone his team's way.
Smart too was clearly perturbed by the officiating, as he said after the game, via Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated:
Marcus Smart not pleased w/ the officiating in his game. "Every call went against us, no matter what." Referred to it as "a Debbie Downer."— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) March 22, 2014
Plus, every time the Cowboys seemed to make a run and looked ready to seize control of the game, Gonzaga had an answer. In many ways, the entire game was a microcosm of a very frustrating, very disappointing season for Oklahoma State.
And Smart gave everything he had. His effort was certainly never in question. Just ask Bonnie Bernstein of Campus Insiders:
Marcus Smart ain't layin down. He's been through too much this year… #OKState— Bonnie Bernstein (@BonnieBernstein) March 21, 2014
Oh, and there's also this, passed along by ESPN Stats and Information:
Marcus Smart is the 1st player in NCAA Tournament history to record 20 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals in a game.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 21, 2014
Taking everything into consideration, Smart earns an A- for his performance. There were times he was absolutely dominant, and there were times he disappointed—all in the same game. Ultimately, though, he couldn't quite get the Cowboys out of the round of 64 for a second straight year, and that has to factor into his grade for this game.
But it's hard to not give a guy an A when he makes history.
Talk will now turn to whether Smart should have returned for his sophomore year at all. Once again, his team was eliminated in the round of 64 and, in the process, probably cost himself a bit of money as his draft stock clearly took a hit after this season.
Granted, Smart has already said that returning this year was the best thing he could have done, as he told Kelly Hines of Tulsa World:
I never regretted coming back. It was my decision, and it's what I really wanted. So I'm very happy with the decision I made. This team has made my decision to come back well worth my while.
These are a group of guys that I got a bond with that will never be broken. These guys are one of the best I've played with in the country as teammates and as friends.
He also said, before this game, that he feels his legacy is secure.
I think my legacy is already defined. I'm a hard worker (as a) player and teammate. I like to make my teammates better.
I'm kind, but like Kevin Durant said, don't let the kindness fool you. Don't take it for weakness. Between those lines, I talk trash. I'm physical. I don't respect you, but if you fall down, I'll help you up.
On a personal level, it wouldn't be fair to argue with Smart that he made the best decision for himself. But for his career, and his bank account, it's hard not to second-guess the decision. Adam McGinnis put it best:
Marcus Smart should have played for millions this basketball season— Adam McGinnis (@adammcginnis) March 21, 2014
No doubt, Smart will be a solid NBA player. He can score the rock, he gets his teammates involved and he goes up and battles for rebounds. He has a clear passion for the game, and when he is on his game, he energizes everyone around him.
He may not lament his decision to return, but he'll surely be disappointed in how his team went out. Big things are still in Smart's future, but on Friday, he's likely more consumed by what might have been.