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Boys basketball: Phil-ing it up: Forte, Smart and Oklahoma State set to invade Cowtown
In each of the past three years, Phil Forte and Marcus Smart departed from Fort Worth in early March as Class 5A Region I Champions.
Wednesday they will be back, this time continuing their quest for Big 12 supremacy as Oklahoma State travels to face TCU.
"It's going to be fun," Forte said. "I'm looking forward to having a bunch of fans from Flower Mound and Dallas out there. It's going to be fun for both sides."
Among those in attendance will be Forte's sister Courtney, who recently signed to play soccer at Oklahoma.
"That's just her stubbornness at its finest," Forte joked. "I would have picked anywhere but there. But I'm happy for her and will be rooting for her on the soccer field."
With both Forte and Smart transitioning seamlessly to the college ranks, the Cowboys have climbed the polls (ranked No. 14 this week by the AP) and are one game back of Kansas for first in conference after suffering a double-overtime loss Wednesday to the Jayhawks.
"That was tough," Forte said. "I thought we were going to pull it out. We were just one or two plays short."
The game was so grueling head coach Travis Ford elected to skip practice and rest the legs Thursday night, instead opting for a team viewing of "Identity Thief".
"It was OK," Forte said of the flick. "I mean ... I didn't really think it was that funny. But that's alright because we got didn't have to go to practice."
Anything to take his mind off the loss, which could have given the Cowboys a season sweep of Kansas following an 85-80 win Feb. 2 in Lawrence.
Smart posted 25 points, nine rebounds, three assists and five steals in the game, while Forte tallied 11 points and two assists. Reminiscent of so many wins at Marcus, the pair was at its best late, with Smart totaling nine points, three boards, two assists and two steals in the final 5:22 and Forte converting 4-of-4 free throws down the stretch. Up by three in the final seconds, the game concluded with a Smart steal and assist to Forte for a layup just before the horn.
"Leaving Allen Fieldhouse with a win was a sweet feeling," Forte said.
The Kansas battles were just two of many tight contests for the Cowboys this season.
In five of their last seven games, the winning margin has been fewer than five, including three overtime games. Four times the Cowboys got the win. And from Day 1, Forte and Smart have been key cogs.
"I think our coaches at Marcus really helped develop our basketball IQ," Forte said. "They prepared us for those close games and that's something we really took pride in. Focusing, playing smart and playing tough defense late. And it's the same here. We work a lot on late game situations and the mental aspect of things."
The Cowboys hoped to be breathing easy at the buzzer Saturday (results not available as of press time) when they went on the road to face a West Virginia team they previously defeated, 80-66.
In the win, Forte recorded a career-high 26 points and matched his personal best with six 3-pointers. He did so wearing the No. 13 for the first time this season after previously, and unknowingly, wearing the number of a retired jersey (his high school number, 10, which was retired by the program to honor 10 people who lost their lives following a team plane crash returning from a game in 2001).
"I had actually been wearing 10 all year," Forte said. "I guess nobody realized it, but a parent called and said the number is supposed to be retired. So I needed a new jersey and 13 was the only one left at the time. So I took it and it worked out well that game."
Forte, his No. 13 jersey and Smart will be in action Wednesday at 6 p.m. from TCU's Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.