Oklahoma State hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in three seasons, but is already looking formidable behind a pair of emerging stars and a suffocating defense.
The 20th-ranked Cowboys - part of the Top 25 for the first time since 2007 - face Portland State on Sunday seeking their 38th win in the last 39 non-conference home games.
Oklahoma State (4-0) capped off its trip to the Puerto Rico Tipoff with an impressive 76-56 win over then-No. 6 N.C. State in the championship game last Sunday. The Cowboys defeated Akron and Tennessee before upsetting the Wolfpack and are in position for their first 5-0 start since 2009.
"They have a lot of great players," tournament MVP Marcus Smart said of N.C. State. "And we just knew we were gonna have to come out, be ready and play hard."
Smart had 20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals and four blocked shots in the title game.
"I could feel it. I could sense I was hot and my teammates got me the ball and it got us going."
Smart has already staked his claim as one of the nation's top freshman, averaging 14.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game. He forms a potent duo with sophomore swingman Le'Bryan Nash, who adds 19.0 points and 6.8 rebounds. Nash scored a season-high 23 against the Wolfpack, going 13 of 13 from the free-throw line.
Both are doing a significant portion of their damage at the foul line, combining for 59-for-69 (85.5 percent) shooting in four games.
"Marcus just got hot and got into a rhythm," coach Travis Ford said. "He can do so many different things on the court to help us win. And Le'Bryan Nash played with such a flow throughout the tournament and it was just fun to watch.
"They did so many different things well."
The Cowboys have been able to rely on their defense in all four wins, holding opponents to 57.8 points per game and 33.3 percent field-goal shooting, which ranks near the top of the country.
After being outrebounded in two of their first three games, Oklahoma State claimed a 45-34 advantage on the boards against the Wolfpack's vaunted front line.
"The way we started the game was the difference," Ford said. "We played with a high level of intensity, playing above the rim and taking them out of the areas where they like to score. N.C. State might have the most potent offense we will see all year."
Oklahoma State will meet a Portland State (1-2) squad that opened with a 77-58 win against Pacific (Ore.) but has lost two straight road games against Oregon and Portland since. The Vikings went 5-11 away from home last season and haven't won on the road against a major conference school since beating Arizona State in 2006.
Dre Winston Jr. leads Portland State with 14.7 points per game on 57.7 percent shooting.
This is the first meeting between the schools.
The Associated Press News Service
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