The 6-7, 230-pound Nash scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds before fouling out with 1:40 remaining in the game. He surpassed his previous career best of 28 points (vs. TCU a year ago) while scoring 11 consecutive points during a three-and-a- half minute stretch of the second half as the Cowboys went from trailing 58-57 to leading 68-60.
The Cowboys junior was 10-of-13 from the field and 9-of-14 from the free-throw line (including going 4-of-4 on field goals and 3-of-3 on free throws in the second half).
“My teammates were getting me shots,” Nash said. “I got it right under the basket and then I’m going up strong. I just give the credit to my teammates. They just keep pushing me and keep telling me to be aggressive, and that’s what I did today. Today was my day.”
Nash’s game has changed this season. He is looking to take the ball to the basket and in the process is getting fouled. As a sophomore, he shot 50 three-pointers (after shooting 68 as a freshman), but in the Cowboys first 19 games this season he has attempted just four (all misses).
But he came up with five conventional three-point plays (making the basket and drawing the foul) in Saturday’s game against the Mountaineers.
“That’s the best way to get them,” OSU head coach Travis Ford said. “We needed that (from Le’Bryan). When other guys aren’t making shots and we aren’t knocking down threes … Le’Bryan gave us those good, high percentage shots and made some nice and-ones.”
Nash said, “If I get going I feel like I’m hard to stop. I really believe in myself. I feel like I’m a great scorer. When I’m playing hard it comes naturally to me. I just started off like that. I was thinking about rebounding the whole game and my offense just came. The scoring came for me because they put a bigger guy on me and my teammates just gave me the ball in good situations.”
In the first half, while playing all 20 minutes, he had 18 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
But despite Nash’s impressive first half the Cowboys still trailed 35-32 following a three-pointer by West Virginia’s Remi Debo with 2:20 remaining.
However, OSU closed out the first half by scoring the final 10 points, including a flurry in the last 15 seconds that had Ford running onto the court to congratulate his team as the buzzer sounded signaling the end of the half.
Nash’s basket with 2:11 left in the half pulled the Cowboys with 35-34 and then Markel Brown’s two free throws gave them the lead. Phil Forte’s two free throws pushed the lead to 38-35 with just over a minute remaining in the half.
Forte’s rebound of West Virginia’s Terry Henderson’s layup gave the Cowboys the ball back, but Stevie Clark’s shot from in the paint rolled off the rim. Brown came flying through the air to slam the ball through to push the lead to 40-35 with 15 seconds still on the clock, sending the Gallagher-Iba Arena crowd into a frenzy.
But the half wasn’t finished yet. Forte made the steal on West Virginia’s inbounds pass, making an acrobatic pass to teammate Brian Williams as he was falling out of bounds in front of the Mountaineers bench. Nash eventually found the ball in his hands and slammed it home for his 17th and 18th points of the half, sending Ford running onto the court to congratulate his team on the finish to an otherwise frustrating first half.
Smart finished with four points (the only game during his Cowboys playing career in which he scored fewer points was against Texas Tech on Jan. 19, 2013 when he had three). He made just one of his seven shots from the field (he missed all four of his three-point attempts) and had three turnovers in 25 minutes of play before fouling out with 13 seconds left in the game.
But Nash and his teammates came through as the Cowboys improves to 16-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big 12. West Virginia drops to 11-9 and 3-4.
In addition to Nash, Brown (15 points and 10 rebounds), Forte (13 points, five steals, 8-of-8 from the foul line), Brian Williams (10 points and six rebounds) and Clark (10 points) scored in double figures.
“What a hard fought, physical game. It wasn’t the prettiest thing,” Ford said. “The last five minutes of the first half was the difference in the game. Stevie Clark and Phil Forte gave us some incredible energy and made a lot of hustle plays at the end of the first half, and then Le’Bryan kind of held down the fort for us.
“Other things weren’t there tonight. We just figured a way out to get a win when a lot of things were just … it was a different basketball game tonight. I told our team that this time of year you’ve just got to find ways to win. There are different ways to win games, there are all kind of ways to win games, we just kind of persevered and had a little spurt toward the end of the half.”
The Cowboys don’t have long to celebrate the victory. They return to action in Monday night’s nationally televised Big Monday game (ESPN) against No. 25 Oklahoma in Norman.