MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

February 16, 2014

Sooners put OSU’s hopes on shaky ground

STILLWATER – As an historic arena that never really seemed more than two-thirds full emptied, Oklahoma State’s students, maybe 150 more true believers and the cheerleaders and poms, sang the OSU song.

Their team has fallen apart, their coach must be on the way out. Once a Final Four favorite, the Pokes can’t possibly think they have a path into the NCAA tournament beyond winning the Big 12 tournament. And still, there was this core, this base, sticking around beyond the bitter end.

Impressive.

Just nowhere near as impressive as Oklahoma’s last 1:48 Saturday afternoon at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

It has to be the Sooners’ best 1:48 of the season, and while it may not have saved the season – because it probably didn’t need saving, at least not yet – it sure as heck helped, sending OU past OSU 77-74.

Oh, what the Sooner women, who are in Gallagher-Iba at noon today, would do to have even 30 seconds of their male counterparts’ last 1:48.

“They hung in there and kept grinding,” OU coach Lon Kruger said.

They did much more than that.

Over the last 1:48, OU scored 12 points, allowed five, and did not miss a shot, from the field where Buddy Hield hit two huge 3-pointers, or from the free-throw line where Jordan Woodard and Je’lon Hornbeak combined to make six straight free throws.

“Everybody started playing their role,” Hield said. “Everybody started playing together.”

It actually began with Kruger, who was drawing up plays for Hield even though Hield had been 3 of 13 from 3-point land before the final 1:48.

Then Hield had to make them, which he did. Then OU had to get stops, something it had managed only once in eight Cowboy trips down the floor prior to the last 1:48. But the Sooners did that, too, making it an 8-0 run when Woodard followed Hield’s 3-pointers with two free throws that made it 73-68 with 31 seconds remaining.

The only real mistake over the final moments was allowing an offensive rebound that let Phil Forte hit a second-chance 3 with 6 seconds to play. Yet it was on both sides of that 3 that Hornbeak drained a quartet of free throws, swishes all.

The Sooners actually hit their last eight free throws after going 7-of-13 during the game’s first 36 minutes.

“These guys just stick together,” Kruger said. “They’ve grown … They’re a great bunch.”

It wasn’t freezing and there were about 45,000 fewer fans, but it wasn’t so unlike football Bedlam just 10 short weeks ago.

Given what had come before, imagining Blake Bell taking OU right down the field when anything else meant losing had to be far-fetched. And Saturday afternoon, given the previous 38:12, the final 1:48 was hard to imagine, too.

Yet it happened.

It’s more proof of Kruger’s brilliance, of the players’ mental and physical toughness, of the fact that Sooner men’s hoops is not only going down a good road, but a road in which more than one might expect awaits, because the hallmark of this team, if you haven’t noticed, is overachievement.

OU had lost three of four games coming into its Bedlam rival’s house. Two were close road games that got away and one was a Lloyd Noble Center shocker, to Texas Tech, nobody saw coming.

It wasn’t the recent résumé anybody wants to take into Bedlam. Yet OU did, and won, with a near-perfect last 1:48.

There’s a sort of arrogance about the Sooners that’s enviable. Before Hield found his stroke, and on a day Cam Clark failed to bring his, Frank Booker kept OU afloat, hitting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc on the way to 15 points.

There’s a humility and toughness, which begins with Ryan Spangler inside, where his 12 points and 13 rebounds made certain Saturday OU offered a presence in the paint.

“I try to do the little things for my team to win,” Spangler said.

Whatever all the forces at work, they’ve come together to mold a team OU fans can count out at their peril, and that, when it absolutely had to be, was about as good as any team can be Saturday afternoon.

It’s hard to be better than that, especially for Bedlam.

Clay Horning is the sports editor for the Norman Transcript.

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