STILLWATER — Jeffrey Carroll flung the pass to Kendall Smith in the corner, turned around and raised his right arm and lifted three fingers.
The 9,635 Oklahoma State fans in a raucous Gallagher-Iba Arena rose with him, and as Smith’s 3-pointer splashed through the net, Carroll blew a kiss to the frenzied crowd.
In a second-round NIT game, in the third week of March, with OSU students off — and mostly out of town — for the week, Cowboy fans galvanized, nudging OSU toward a 71-65 come-from-behind win over a hulking Stanford squad and helping to send them to the NIT quarterfinals.
The Cowboys, feeding off the energy in the building, scored 29 fourth-quarter points to erase a five-point deficit — with Smith’s 3-pointer proving to be a dagger that put the Cowboys ahead by seven with 34 seconds left.
Smith and Carroll, two seniors who fake-sparred with each other at midcourt after the 3, led OSU to its 21st victory with 19 and 26 points, respectively. OSU’s third senior, Mitchell Solomon, put up 10 points and six rebounds and left the court to a standing ovation after his fifth foul.
The immense support — more fans showed up Monday than all but three regular-season games — told the story as much as anything.
Though Oklahoma State still feels it should have been playing in the main event, the NCAA Tournament — “I think Dick Vitale said it best,” Smith said — OSU’s two home games in the NIT so far have only strengthened the growing bond between Mike Boynton’s program and a fan base that has endured a tumultuous few seasons of hoops.