Shortly after he arrived on campus from Dallas Lincoln, Le'Bryan Nash was given a list of rules to follow as a member of the Oklahoma State basketball team. One stood out above the rest.
Never say anything negative.
“All negative talk does is bring people down,” Nash said. “We always talk positive, always try to lift each other up.”
It hasn’t been easy.
Oklahoma State entered Wednesday’s game against second-ranked Missouri toting a 9-10 record and a three-game Big 12 losing streak. Part of the problem was Nash, who appeared to be crumbling under high expectations. A consensus top-10 recruit, Nash was averaging just over 11 points while shooting 35 percent from the field.
None of that mattered against the Tigers.
In what was easily the best game of his young career, Nash scored 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting to spark Oklahoma State to a 79-72 victory over Missouri at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Cowboys fans rushed the floor and mobbed Nash as he and his teammates celebrated at center court.
“This win is going to do a lot for this team -- especially me,” Nash said about 30 minutes later in a phone interview with ESPN.com. “My confidence has been up and down.
“I haven’t been consistent scoring the ball, and I’ve needed to be more consistent as far as playing hard. That was one of the hardest games I’ve ever played in my life, because I wanted to win. When I play hard, good things will happen for me and this team.”
Nash’s big game came days after he scored just four points in a 66-58 home loss to Kansas State. One week earlier he managed six points in Oklahoma State’s worst game of the season, a 41-point thumping at Baylor.
What’s baffling is that Missouri beat that same Baylor squad in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, but couldn’t beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Nash said he didn’t feel as if the Tigers took him and his teammates lightly.
“(Missouri point guard) Phil Pressey is a good friend of mine,” Nash said. “He talks to me all the time. He told me that if they didn’t play their game, they could get upset. Their coach was motivating their team to play well, because (he knew) that they could get upset. I guess they didn’t listen to him.”
Oklahoma State -- which also got 22 points from guard Brian Williams -- shot 59 percent from the field Wednesday. This is a team that hadn't shot better than 50 percent against any opponent this season. Then again, Baylor shot 57 percent against Missouri in the Tigers' 89-88 victory on Saturday.
“We knew we could score at will against them,” said Nash, who also praised Oklahoma State’s effort on the other end of the court. “On defense ... we knew they liked to get out and run, that they are a transition team that likes to get quick shots.
“We tried to make them work and take long shots. We made them run down the (shot) clock and run their offense.”
The victory brought smiles to the faces of Oklahoma State supporters, who have watched their team suffer through a brutal season marred by health issues and transfers. Third-leading scorer J.P. Olukemi suffered a season-ending knee injury in a loss to Virginia Tech on New Year’s Eve. Around that same time, veterans Reger Dowell and Fred Gulley announced that they were transferring.
That put even more pressure on Nash who, by that point, didn’t need it.
“Coming in as the highest-rated recruit in the history of the program, I knew all the hype was going to be about me,” Nash said. “It was just motivation for me. When I don’t play well and people say negative stuff, that just gives me motivation to play even harder, even better.”
Oklahoma State’s next two games -- against Texas A&M (Saturday) and Texas Tech (Tuesday) -- are both on the road.
“We’ve only got one road win all season,” Nash said. “Everyone knows we can win at Gallagher-Iba, but doing it on the road is a lot tougher. But tonight shows that if we play hard, we can win any game we play.
“I’m just going to keep my head high, keep getting better and keep playing OSU basketball.”