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STILLWATER, Okla. – For the third straight time, one basket in the final 5 seconds proved to be the difference between Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
Freshman Marcus Smart provided the difference-maker for the Cowboys this time.
Smart scored 21 points and hit the winning basket with 3.1 seconds left to lift Oklahoma State to a 78-76 victory against the Cyclones on Wednesday night.
Smart zipped back and forth beyond the free throw line trying to lose Iowa State's Will Clyburn before knifing into the lane and releasing a runner over Georges Niang that banked off the glass and in for the Cowboys (14-5, 4-3 Big 12).
"My defender let up on me and I just took him and made a tough shot, but it was a big shot for my team," Smart said.
Tyrus McGee missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Cyclones (14-6, 4-3), who had two chances in a wild final few seconds. For a moment, it appeared Chris Babb would have a chance at two free throws to tie it up with less than a second left before officials huddled and ruled that Iowa State should instead get the ball out of bounds.
"We put ourselves in a bad situation. On the road, you can't leave it up to the refs," Babb said. "We let them go on a run there toward the last couple of minutes. If we had gotten some stops there, we'd be walking out of here with a win."
Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said he'd have to go back and watch the end of the game again and he couldn't "talk about the end of the game right now."
Counterpart Travis Ford said he was pleading with officials to reconsider the initial call.
"If you get fouled and you don't have the ball in your hands, it's player control and they called him for a push before the ball got there," Ford said. "It's player control. That's a player control foul. I'm glad they figured it out. That was good.
"I don't know if he fouled or not. What a crazy deal. I guess we were a second away from him shooting free throws, and I don't know what happens if he shoots."
Babb stepped to the free-throw line and was ready to shoot a one-and-one before John Higgins and his crew gathered and ruled that Le'Bryan Nash's foul was an offensive foul and shouldn't result in free throws. Babb got in front of Nash to catch a long inbounds pass, and Nash shoved him in the back as the ball was in the air to bring on the whistle.
"I ain't going to lie about it. I was mad because we were both pushing each other and stuff," said Nash, who scored 18 points.
"I felt like he was holding my arm. I don't know why he called it on me. But you can't blame the refs. I shouldn't have put my team in that situation. I should have just ran and got the ball."
Instead, Babb inbounded from near midcourt, and McGee launched a running 3-pointer that was off-target.
"We made some big plays," Ford said. "We've had a lot of teams make some big plays on us this year late in games, and we came up on the short end. I thought tonight, we were on the positive end of that stick and made some plays."
After Smart's decisive bucket, Nash burned the Cowboys' last foul to give, and McGee was out of bounds when he caught another inbounds pass from Babb on a similar play. Hoiberg argued that McGee had been forced out, to no avail.
Babb ended up with a season-high 19 points to lead Iowa State, Niang added 16 points and Clyburn scored 14. Iowa State hasn't won at Gallagher-Iba Arena since 1988, losing 18 straight.
The last two have been decided right at the end, with Nash hitting a tiebreaking fadeaway jumper with 4.7 seconds left to lift Oklahoma State to a 69-67 win last season. That provided a measure of revenge for last season's first game at Hilton Coliseum, when Scott Christopherson banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 71-68 Iowa State win.
"It's been three tough ones since I've been here. We lost in overtime, last year's ending didn't turn out well, and then Smart ended it tonight," Hoiberg said. "It's a tough place to play."
Oklahoma State erased an 11-point deficit in the second half to turn it into a nail-biter, with 10 lead changes over a 6-minute stretch in the second half. Korie Lucious' driving layup with 2:16 to play put Iowa State up 76-72.
The Cowboys scored the next four points from the foul line to tie it, then got a chance to go ahead after Clyburn's drive against Nash came up empty with 30 seconds left.
Oklahoma State's Phil Forte chipped in 17 points, including three free throws in the final 2 minutes — two of them after Ejim blocked his shot and then slammed into him on the way back down.
The Cyclones were shooting 65 percent after making their first four shots of the second half to take a 50-39 lead after Ejim's hook shot in the lane with 17:19 to play.
Forte sparked Oklahoma State's comeback with a pair of 3s, and the Cowboys regained the lead at 54-53 when Nash completed a 10-0 run with a pair of free throws with 12:10 remaining.
Brian Williams made his season debut for the Cowboys after missing the first 18 games following surgery on his left wrist. Oklahoma State is almost back to full strength after a series of early-season injuries.
"This team has been through a lot of adversity and that's when that comes in, that experience from that helps you become stronger, and you just fight through it," Smart said. "That's kind of what we did tonight,"