His team showed fight when it mattered most.
The Cowboys persevered through 15 lead changes, a blazing shooting performance from the Cyclones and a final five seconds of play drawn out by fouls, turnovers and confusion. It was the first time this season that OSU won a game in the tightest of moments under extreme pressure.
"It was good win for our basketball team," Ford said. "We figured out how to win on a night we didn't play particularly well against a team that played really, really well … They were very motivated.
"It was fun to see. It's something we've been talking about the last two days – leadership. We've been talking to our main guys about who are our leaders and what we want from them. We saw some of that tonight."
It wasn't easy early for the Cowboys (14-5, 4-3). The Cyclones (14-6, 4-3) began the game on a 13-4 run. By halftime, they had connected on 7-of-13 3-pointers. ISU shot more than 59 percent from the field.
But Smart and Le'Bryan Nash kept it close. By halftime, Nash had a team-high 14 points. Smart had 13 – three of which came on a ¾-court heave to beat the buzzer at halftime. OSU trailed 41-37 at the break.
OSU fought back in the second half behind Smart, Nash and Markel Brown (12 points, 8 rebounds). By the 12:10 mark, the Cowboys had gained a one-point lead. That started the back-and-fourth that led to the game's ultimate point of high-drama.
It seemed as if every time the Cowboys went ahead, the Cyclones would respond with another 3-pointer.
"At the time, it was a heartbreaker for us," Smart said. "It was like we couldn't breathe. We were right there, but every time we got up, we would go right back down. But this team's been through a lot of adversity ... It helps you become stronger and you just fight through it."
Said Ford: "All I see I see right now are threes going in. I don't remember them missing a shot, to be honest with you."
Phil Forte (17 points, 3-8 3 PT) came up with a couple key steals down the stretch. Brown grabbed a number of key rebounds. Nash continued to score.
It was a combination of factors that led Smart to his moment. It was the fight of this OSU team that got him there. The Cowboys never led by more than two points all game long. In the end, it was just the right amount of cushion.
"Coach Ford said get to the basket if it's there," Smart said. "It was a big shot for my team."
Brian Williams returns:
Cowboys' forward Brian Williams played for the first time this season after having wrist surgery. He saw just six minutes of action in a limited.
"I just wanted to stick him out there," Ford said. "His offensive rhythm right now is not there. And the biggest problem is that he doesn't know what he's doing offensively … I'm hoping in two weeks, he can get to where he can play 20 minutes and get some normal minutes for us. That would be a huge, huge lift for our team. He's only practiced three days. That's all he's practiced."
Marcus Smart hit a ¾-quarter shot (with plenty of contact to end the first half.
"I actually practice it every day," Smart said. "When we walk into the gym, I actually just throw up a shot … I really wasn't expecting it to go in. I was trying to draw a foul. I released it, and it just went in."
It was a wild finish in GIA – for more than one reason. Up two points with five seconds remaining, there were two fouls and two turnovers. It looked as though the Cyclones could tie it on a pair of last second free throws from a Le'Bryan Nash foul on an ISU inbounds pass. It was then called a non-shooting foul, and the Cyclones took another inbounds with just seconds remaining.
"If you get fouled and you don't have the ball in your hands, it's player control," Ford said. "They called (Nash) for a push before the ball got there … I'm glad they figured it out. That was good."
On to Allen Fieldhouse:
The Cowboys face a quick turnaround, as they will travel to Lawrence, Kan. for a showdown against the top-ranked Jayhawks on Saturday.
"It's going to be great playing in that atmosphere," Nash said. "I hope my teammates feel the way I feel. I just want to go in there and get a big win. If we get a big win, it will look good on our resume. A big win at Kansas, it don't get better than that."
KEY NUMBER: 15 – Total lead changes
UP NEXT: Kansas
The Cowboys travel to Kansas (19-1, 7-0) at 3:00 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. / TV: Big 12 Network / RADIO: KSPI 93.7 FM