Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart is one of the most heralded freshmen in the country, a point guard who could become an NBA lottery pick, and one of the most explosive players in college basketball.
On Saturday at Cassell Coliseum, he faced another one.
Erick Green scored 28 points and hit eight critical free throws in the final 76 seconds to help surprising Virginia Tech remain unbeaten and hand No. 10 Oklahoma State its first loss, 81-71.
"He's a good player, a senior, so you know he has a lot of experience with his guys," Smart said of Green. "He controlled his team and came up with big-time plays in big-time moments."
Green's scoring was critical in the closing moments, but so was his defense. He made a key steal after the Cowboys closed to within 69-66, and was fouled and made the first of eight late free throws.
Oklahoma State (5-1) wasn't as sharp as it had been, or as focused.
"We broke down a lot on the defensive end. We were doing a lot of complaining to the officials instead of going out there and actually playing," Smart said. "They wanted it more than us."
Still, coach Travis Ford expected it to change at any moment.
"We never made any big plays. We were just kind of chugging along in the first half, 10-point lead or whatever it was," he said. "We never made the run we needed to make and they would always make a big basket whenever I thought we were going to extend it a bit."
Green had help, too, especially in the first half when foul trouble limited him to nine minutes.
Robert Brown added 18 points, and Jarell Eddie had 15 with 12 rebounds for the Hokies (7-0), who are off to their first 7-0 start since the 1982-83 season under first-year head coach James Johnson.
Smart and Le'Bryan Nash scored 18 each to lead the Cowboys (5-1), who lost to the Hokies for the fourth straight time, all in the past three seasons. The teams met in a tournament in 2010, again in the NIT Season Tip-Off last season, and then had a previously scheduled game in Stillwater, Okla., on New Year's Eve.
The game was close throughout, especially after Tech saw what had been an eight-point led cut to 69-66 on Markel Brown's deep 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:22 remaining.
Brown missed the front end of a one-and-one for Virginia Tech, but as Oklahoma was setting up its offense, Green stole the ball and was fouled driving toward the basket. He made both, pushing the Hokies' lead to 71-66. Nash made 1 of 2 at the other end, and Green was fouled again with 53.8 seconds left.
He made both again, and finished the game having made 51 of his last 53 from the line.
Green played only nine minutes in the first half after drawing two quick fouls, but scored the Hokies' first 10 points of the second half on a pair of 3-pointers, two free throws and a long fadeaway.
Jarell Eddie's 3-pointer gave Virginia Tech a 49-46 lead with 15 minutes left. Forte scored for Oklahoma State, and Robert Brown put back his own miss. Smart's drive cut the Hokies' lead to 51-50 with 13:17 to go, but the Cowboys didn't score again for 5:05 as the Hokies reeled off seven straight.
The Cowboys used a 9-2 run featuring five points by Smart to close to 60-59, but after the Hokies' Robert Brown and the Cowboys' Kamari Murphy traded baskets, Virginia Tech scored seven of the next nine. Eddie scored on a drive, and Brown was credited with a basket when Philip Jurick was called for goaltending. After Nash's driving bank, Marshall Wood was fouled twice and made 3 of 4 free throws.
Markel Brown's 3-pointer from the top of the key for the Cowboys made it 69-66 with 2:22 left.
The Cowboys led 36-32 in a first half in which both teams took turns going on short scoring bursts.
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr