By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
AUSTIN, Texas — There was a large stretch Saturday night where Oklahoma couldn’t get shots to fall and couldn’t get any stops against Texas. But that was in the middle. The beginning and the end was enough for the Sooners to get an 88-85 victory over the Longhorns at the Erwin Center.
The win lifted OU to 12-2 overall and was its first Texas’ home floor win since 2005. More importantly, it provided a winning start to the Big 12 Conference.
Texas (11-3, 0-1 Big 12) led by as many seven points midway through the second half. Point guard Javan Felix scored a game-high 28 points and handed out five assists.
For about 36 minutes, it was a clear mismatch between Felix and OU freshman point guard Jordan Woodard. Woodard only played 20 minutes due to first-half foul trouble.
However, it was Woodard who closed convincingly. He scored 10 points in the final two minutes and grabbed the critical rebound that sealed the victory.
“My teammates and coaches kept encouraging me to stay locked into the game,” Woodard said. “The last minutes of the game (OU coach Lon Kruger) kept calling my number. I just wanted to be there for my teammates. Luckily, I was able to get into the paint and get a layup or get to the line and make some free throws.”
Prior to Woodard catching fire it was Buddy Hield, Tyler Neal and Isaiah Cousins who kept the Sooners in the game. Hield scored 22 points and Neal added 13 to go along with seven rebounds off the bench. Cousins went 3 for 4 from beyond the arc and finished with 13 points. The trio was a combined 10 of 18 from 3-point range while the Sooners were 13 for 28.
All but three of those makes came in the first half, when the Sooners built a 12-point lead after 15 minutes of play. It was Neal and Hield that catapulted the hot start.
“My teammates found me in my comfortable spots,” Hield said. “Everyone found each other at the right times.”
Defense, or lack of it, has been the bane of OU’s existence thus far. The problems continued Saturday. Texas shot 50.8 percent (31 for 61). The Sooners overcame it in two critical areas: rebounding (39 to 28) and free throws. The Sooners were 21 for 26 from the charity stripe. The Longhorns went 14 for 20, but five of the misses were during a critical stretch late in the game.
OU trailed by one with 3:24 to go and the Longhorns had chances at the foul line to extend the lead. Felix missed a pair and Cameron Ridley, who added 14 points and eight rebounds, also missed a pair.
Hield responded with a 3-pointer with 2:24 left to give the Sooners a two-point lead. They never trailed again.
The victory exorcised a few of the demons from the Sooners’ previous trip to the Erwin Center. Last time, they held a 22-point lead with a little less than eight minutes to go and wound up losing, 92-86, in overtime.
With eight minutes to go Saturday, OU faced its largest deficit and pulled together and won.
“The opportunity was there to go either direction,” Kruger said. “It’s hard to finish a game and get a win … I thought our last couple minutes was executed pretty well.”
The two are completely different teams in many ways. One obvious one is that Cameron Clark, who was held to eight points and was the player the Longhorns wanted to take away, and Neal were the only seniors on the floor Saturday night. OU’s youngsters showed the poise it took to pull out a huge win at venue that hasn’t been kind of late.